Homicide vs Manslaughter

Homicide vs Manslaughter: What’s the Difference?

If there’s one thing that prime-time TV has popularized, its an interest in homicide cases. It is often used as a launching point for all types of cases and mysteries, featuring a murder is a great way to engage the audience and keep them captivated.

Along with this type of storytelling comes confusion about some of the terminology. Some terms are used interchangeably, chosen more for dramatic effect than legal accuracy.

One of these more common confusions is the difference between homicide and manslaughter. Both bare many similarities, but there is a clear distinction that makes a big difference in criminal proceedings and sentencing.

Keep reading to learn more about the difference between homicide vs. manslaughter.


The blanket term for the act of a human ending another human’s life is known as a homicide. It covers a range of acts that carry different intentions and, so, different sentences.

Homicide on its own isn’t necessarily illegal. Soldiers at war are covered from the legal ramifications of their acts, as long as they stay within the Geneva Convention.

Self-defense resulting in homicide an also be legal, depending on the circumstances.

To judge the legality of the actions, the law breaks homicide down into four categories. The deciding factor in determining which category an act falls into is defined by its intent.

1. Capital Murder

The first category is known as capital murder (also sometimes called first-degree murder.) It’s characterized by the intent to cause the death of someone.

The term premeditated is often used to determine capital murder. This can include any planning or preparations that the perpetrator undertook before the act.

That doesn’t mean the accused has to have intended to murder. Committing an act that they knew was dangerous or would result in bodily harm qualifies. Violence against children or vulnerable people can also fall under this classification.

Also, a homicide that takes place during the committing of a felony can also be charged as capital murder. It falls under a sub-category known as felony murder, and carry the same punishment.

Any murder of a peace officer or firefighter is also categorized as capital murder.

Punishment for Capital Murder

The common sentence for capital murder is life imprisonment. The facts of the case will influence whether there are any additional punishments.

Capital murder is the only time where a conviction of homicide could get the death penalty. But, that doesn’t mean that a death sentence is an automatic outcome.

2. Murder

A first-degree felony, murder covers any intent to end someone’s life or engage in acts that will cause harm. It also includes any death that results from committing a felony or criminal act.

The primary difference between murder and capital murder is how it’s presented and its punishment. Any criminal act resulting in homicide typically falls under capital murder. This includes arson, sexual assault, kidnapping, and more.

Murder, on the other hand, applies to situations where only homicide is the crime. It’s also known as second-degree murder.

Punishment for Murder

As a first-degree felony, murder carries a penalty of 5-99 years imprisonment and up to a $10,000 fine. 

3. Manslaughter

A homicide that occurs in a fit of passion or without premeditation is classified as manslaughter. It’s when someone causes the death of someone else through their reckless actions.

Two prime examples of this are intoxication manslaughter and vehicular manslaughter. In the first case, someone kills another while drunk. In the second, it’s causing someone’s death while driving a car.

Premeditation and intent aren’t necessary when determining if a homicide is manslaughter. Instead, the focus is on whether or not the actions were reckless.

Punishment for Manslaughter

Manslaughter is classified as a second-degree felony charge and carries a sentence of 2-20 imprisonment and up to a $10,000 fine.

4. Criminally Negligent Homicide

The final category is an offshoot of manslaughter. Where manslaughter is a result of recklessness, a charge of criminally negligent homicide is the result of negligence.

This can be seen in cases where death is the result of inaction as opposed to recklessness. Failure to provide children with the necessity of life, or leaving a child in a car on a hot day can lead to criminally negligent homicide.

When determining if death is a result of manslaughter or negligence, the focus is on the risk awareness of the accused; whether they’re aware that their actions are dangerous or not can decide the charge.

Punishment for Criminally Negligent Homicide

A punishment of 180 days to 2 years in prison is the penalty for criminally negligent homicide. It also carries a maximum fine of $10,000. 

Though classified as a state jail felony, criminally negligent homicide can be punished as a third-degree felony. The first reason is if the accused has a previous felony conviction. The second is if there was a deadly weapon present during the act. This includes if one was present immediately afterward. Having foreknowledge of one’s presence can lead to this, too.

How Homicide Is Judged

As felonies, all homicides cases are tried in the district court. Capital murder has an automatic appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The other convictions can demand an appeal before the Court of Criminal Appeals. There needs to be a strong case to bring about a retrial, though.

Homicide vs. Manslaughter

The laws of a just society aim to balance criminal acts with the appropriate punishments. This leads to a sophisticated legal system. This leads to acts needing to be judged by different criteria and intentions.

The confusion between terms like homicide vs. manslaughter is understandable. There are many similarities and overlap. Indeed, manslaughter is but one form that homicide could take.

In fact, manslaughter itself seeks to differentiate death caused by recklessness and negligence. Though it creates complexity, this makes for a more comprehensive legal system. It acknowledges that different motives can influence to these acts.

If you or someone you know is facing a homicide charge, let us help you. We have the knowledge and experience to help you best prepare your defense.