Do you use the words homicide and murder as if they mean the same thing here in the United States? Many people make this mistake. In legal terms, the two words mean different things. The definition of homicide includes any person killed by another person, but that death might not necessarily fall under the definition of murder.
So what does the law consider a murder?
The law classifies a murder as the unlawful and willful killing of another person. Three types of murder charges exist:
1. First-degree murder: This type of murder involves premeditation, which means that you planned it ahead of time.
2. Second-degree murder: This type of murder does not involve premeditation, but does show an indifference to human life and malice.
3. Felony murder: This type of murder involves a death that occurred during the commission of another felony. Even if you did not kill the victim, your participation in the other felony could result in this charge for you.
When a killing occurs with no prior planning and does not fit within the above charges, you might face a charge of manslaughter. Two types of manslaughter charges exist:
1. Voluntary manslaughter: This type of homicide involves a death that occurred "in the heat of passion." For example, if you found your significant other engaged in sexual activity with another person, and you killed one or both individuals, prosecutors might file this charge against you.
2. Involuntary manslaughter: You did not intend to kill anyone and you were not engaged in a felonious activity if you face this charge. For example, reckless driving that leads to a fatal accident could result in this charge.
Voluntary manslaughter and second-degree murder might sound like the same thing, but a significant difference exists. When you face a voluntary manslaughter charge, whatever provoked you to kill might also provoke any other reasonable person. This type of provocation does not exist for second-degree murder. Regardless of which of these charges prosecutors file against you, you face severe penalties.
Whether you face a murder or manslaughter charge, you risk losing your freedom and jeopardizing your future. However, simply facing charges does not equate to losing your freedom. The criminal justice system demands that you remain innocent unless a New Jersey prosecutor proves your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. The courts require prosecutors to provide proof of the elements of the crime.
If the prosecution fails to do so, the charges cannot stand. You retain the right to present a defense to the charges, to review all of the alleged evidence against you and to confront any witnesses in court. Depending on the evidence, a reduction or dismissal of the charges could occur. Because of the potential penalties, you need a strong advocate on your side. An attorney who routinely handles cases involving violent crimes, such as murder and manslaughter, could prove invaluable in preserving your rights and helping to ensure that you receive the best resolution possible to the charges against you.