Murder and manslaughter are some of the most serious criminal charges in the Georgia courts. Find out what the differences are, what the penalties can be, and how your criminal defense lawyer can help you defend against the charges.
Manslaughter and murder both fall under the category of “homicide” in the Georgia criminal statutes. Both crimes involve the killing of another person without a legal justification. The difference between manslaughter and murder may seem slight, but the penalties can be vastly different if you and your criminal defense lawyer can show that your mental state and the circumstances of the crime don’t justify a murder conviction.
Murder is the most serious form of criminal homicide in Georgia, and one of the most severe criminal charges you can face. If you are convicted of murder, you will be sentenced to a life in prison. The only question at sentencing will be whether you will be eligible for parole, will serve your entire life, or whether the state will request the death penalty.
To get a murder conviction, the prosecutor in your case will need to prove that you illegally killed another person with “malice aforethought.” That malicious mental state can include:
Malice can be expressed or implied. The prosecutor doesn’t have to have a recording of you saying, “I’m going to kill him” to prove malice. In many cases, the jury will be asked to infer you meant to cause the person’s death if you were not clearly provoked or where your actions suggest a reckless disregard for human life.
There are two degrees of murder in the Georgia Criminal Code. Second degree murder only applies to killings resulting from negligent cruelty to children that causes excessive physical or mental pain (second degree child cruelty). It is most often raised when the victim is a child. The penalty for second degree murder is ten to 30 years in prison, rather than a life sentence or death penalty.
Manslaughter charges may not be as severe as murder, but they should still be taken seriously. There are two forms of manslaughter in Georgia. Each carries their own standards of proof and sentencing requirements.
Voluntary manslaughter applies when a person intentionally kills another person as a result of sudden and violent passion. These “heat of the moment” killings are based on serious provocation -- the kind that would push a reasonable person to take drastic action. A common example would be finding your spouse in the midst of adultery. The killing must happen right away -- before the person has had a chance to cool off. If the prosecutor can show that you went away and came back later after you had time to think about what you were doing, it may be considered revenge rather than passion, and you could face a murder sentence. However, where there is evidence of provocation results in a voluntary manslaughter conviction, your sentence will be 1 - 20 years in prison, depending on your criminal history and the circumstances of the crime.
Involuntary manslaughter is accidental but negligent homicide. Here the prosecutor doesn’t need to show you intended anyone harm. However, your illegal or reckless actions resulted in someone’s death. A common example of involuntary manslaughter is when drunk driving results in a fatal car accident. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the death, involuntary manslaughter can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. You could face less than a year in jail, or up to 20 years in prison.
Just like in any criminal court, the prosecutor has the responsibility of proving that you are guilty of either type of homicide: manslaughter or murder. But in many murder cases, one defense strategy is to say that the crime was really only manslaughter. By inviting the jury to consider this lesser offense, your criminal defense attorney can raise the question of whether you really had the mentality necessary for murder, or if your offense is better described as voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. Given the vast differences in sentencing, this can be the difference between life in prison and one year or less in the local jail.
Sometimes even that one year is more than you deserve. Many defendants facing charges of murder in Georgia can have their cases dismissed based on a legal justification for the killing, or other defenses. Georgia is a stand your ground state. That means you may be able to argue that the alleged victim was killed due to:
These defenses are in addition to the standard array of criminal defense strategies based on illegal police activity, lack of proof, or mistaken identity. If you have been charged with manslaughter or murder because you stood your ground, your defense attorney can file what is called an “immunity motion” raising the defense to have your case dismissed without the need for an extensive murder trial.
Building a strong defense to murder or manslaughter charges is critical. A successful defense can literally save your life. Don’t wait to see whether you will be charged with manslaughter or murder. If you have been accused of killing someone, talk to our experienced criminal defense attorneys in Cartersville, Georgia, right away. We can help you review your case, build your defense, and fight to keep you from facing a capital conviction. Contact Criminal & DUI Law of Georgia so we can begin working on your case right away.