Tennessee Criminal Defense

Manslaughter vs. Murder: What's the Difference?

Homicide is the unlawful taking of a human life. As straightforward as the definition and concept of homicide may be, it can actually be split into two distinct subcategories: murder or manslaughter. For people who have been accused of homicide, understanding the differences between these two charges can make or break their chances in court.


The legal definition of murder is easily understood. If a human life is ended through malice, extreme recklessness, or due to thorough forethought, it constitutes murder. For example, speeding down a suburban street at 100 miles per hour could be considered so reckless and show such a lack of compassion for others that if you crash into and kill someone, you would be charged with murder. In Tennessee, murder can be first-degree or second-degree.


Manslaughter is a little more complex than murder, as it can be divided once again into two subcategories: voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary manslaughter is frequently referred to as a “crime of passion” because it involves someone committing what they know to be a violent act but one that they did not plan ahead of time, or did not have the mental capacity as it played out. A common example of a crime of passion is a person returning home to find their spouse in bed with another; during the ensuing fit of rage, they take the life of the lover, their spouse, or both.

Involuntary manslaughter – sometimes called criminally negligent homicide in Tennessee statutes – is when a life is taken without premeditation, maliciousness, or absurd recklessness. Due to the circumstances surrounding some cases, involuntary manslaughter might not even be considered a crime that bears charges at all. For example, driving down the road at an acceptable speed, looking down at your radio for a second, and striking an elderly pedestrian, resulting in their death, would be considered involuntary vehicular manslaughter and you would probably never be arrested for any crime; you could, however, be ordered to pay compensation to the surviving family members of the victim but that is a civil penalty, not a criminal one.


The conviction penalties associated with each form of homicide is different from the next. Murder is the most heavily punished, often including decades or life behind bars and thousands of dollars in fines paid to the state and the victims. Voluntary manslaughter can be penalized with years in jail with possible parole and high fines. Involuntary manslaughter, if it is even considered a crime, may include minimum incarceration and fines.

Are you accused of murder, manslaughter, or any other degree of homicide? Get a Murfreesboro Criminal Defense Attorney at Crain & Flatt Attorneys at Law on your side. With a former prosecutor who has gained national recognition, our firm can help you stay one step ahead of the opposition in your case. Contact us today to get a free consultation.