What’s The Difference Between Homicide and Manslaughter in WA?

June 3, 2022

Homicide is a broad term for the act of one person killing another individual. Manslaughter and murder are two types of Homicide. Manslaughter is usually an unintentional act. Murder usually describes an intentional killing.

Knowing the difference between these legal terms will be important if you or a family member are accused of a homicide in Washington. It’s critical to note that a suspect doesn’t have to use a gun or knife, or attack someone to be charged with a homicide.

A driver getting behind the wheel while intoxicated and killing someone on the road is just one example of another manslaughter violation.

Homicide Defined in Washington State

Homicide describes the act of an individual killing other individuals. It’s a comprehensive term that covers both legal and illegal killing. It doesn’t automatically carry a criminal charge. Some forms of homicide are legal. Examples would include a soldier killing an enemy combatant or a homicide committed in an act that’s legally considered self-defense.

Washington’s legal codes define homicide this way:

RCW 9A.32.010

“Homicide is the killing of a human being by the act, procurement, or omission of another, death occurring at any time, and is either (1) murder, (2) homicide by abuse, (3) manslaughter, (4) excusable homicide, or (5) justifiable homicide.”

The two types of criminal homicides are murder and manslaughter. A murder describes someone who intends to kill someone and then does so. Premeditation is often a factor in a murder case.

Manslaughter is usually a lesser criminal charge. It still involves the death of one person at the hands of another, but the guilty party usually didn’t intend to kill anyone.

Explaining Murder Charges in Washington State

Murder is one type of illegal homicide. Murder is a charge used when it’s believed a suspect killed with “malice aforethought.” Malice aforethought can mean that someone plotted to kill someone else before the crime occurred. This intention would result in a first-degree murder charge.

But not every instance of malice aforethought means that the murderer committed premeditated murder. Second-degree murder charges apply to people who knew their actions were extremely dangerous to others and yet went ahead with their actions anyway. If someone gets hurt, even if it’s unintentional, it might lead to a count of second-degree murder.

Explaining Manslaughter Charges in Washington State

Manslaughter is the killing of someone without premeditation. Manslaughter applies to two different scenarios. A person may be guilty of manslaughter if they didn’t intend to kill someone, but their gross negligence for the safety of others caused another person to die. This is known as involuntary manslaughter.

Voluntary manslaughter describes the killing of someone in the heat of the moment. The accused didn’t plot to kill someone beforehand, but due to strong provocation, the person chose to kill someone. This might describe people who find their spouse cheating on them. Without time to contemplate their reaction, they might end someone’s life.

In Washington, there are different legal categories of manslaughter:

  • Manslaughter in the first degree
  • Manslaughter in the second degree
  • Vehicular homicide

Washington’s legal code on first-degree manslaughter puts it this way:

RCW 9A.32.060

“(1) A person is guilty of manslaughter in the first degree when:

(a) He or she recklessly causes the death of another person; or

(b) He or she intentionally and unlawfully kills an unborn quick child by inflicting any injury upon the mother of such child.

(2) Manslaughter in the first degree is a class A felony.”

Second-degree manslaughter is a Class B felony. It’s invoked when someone claims a life through criminal negligence. It’s usually a complete accident, yet the action taken was so reckless that a reasonable person should have known it could cause serious harm or the loss of life.

Vehicular Manslaughter is a Class A Felony in Washington. It commonly involves drivers who operate vehicles while impaired by drugs or alcohol. Washington law states that if a victim dies within three years as a result of an injury from a car accident, a vehicular manslaughter charge is permitted.

The driver charged would have to have been driving under the influence, be guilty of driving in an extremely reckless manner, or driving with disregard for the safety of others.

For more information, you are encouraged to check out our page on Manslaughter Charges in Washington.

What Are the Possible Sentences for Felony Charges in Washington?

If a type of criminal homicide doesn’t already have statutes setting maximum sentencing guidelines the following parameters are used.

A class A felony can result in life imprisonment and not exceed a $50,000 fine. A class B felony may result in up to 10 years in prison and a fine not to exceed $20,000.

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