St. Louis Defense Attorney Answers: What’s the Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter?


Murder and manslaughter are both serious crimes in Missouri, but it’s vital to understand the legal distinctions between the two. You should consult with a knowledgeable St. Louis attorney to know the potential legal consequences when someone is charged with first degree murder or manslaughter in Missouri.

Murder Charge

Among all types of Missouri homicide crimes, first degree murder is considered the most serious. To prove the charge of first degree murder against a defendant, the prosecution is required to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant purposely and intentionally killed an individual while having no legal justification to commit the act.

Penalties for murder in Missouri will be determined according to the circumstances surrounding the crime. The goal of the criminal defense St. Louis lawyer will be to challenge the prosecution’s claims and show that the legal criteria of murder have not been satisfied. A lesser murder charge, which is called second degree murder, will come into play if the killing was committed without premeditation.

Manslaughter Charge

Manslaughter in Missouri also involves unlawful killing, but without the element of malice or premeditation. However, this act still involves a deliberate or conscious disregard for the life of a human being. A criminal defense St. Louis attorney will understand the legal distinction between involuntary and voluntary manslaughter.

Involuntary manslaughter occurs when the killing was not intended, but resulted from criminal negligence or recklessness (such as a DUI felony or an unlawful act of misdemeanor). Voluntary manslaughter occurs when the killing is committed either in self-defense, defense of others, or in the heat of passion.

How Penalties are Determined

Death penalty (capital punishment) is permitted in Missouri. In a case of capital murder, the issue of guilt will be taken up first during the trial. If guilt is determined, the sentencing phase of the trial will begin. In this phase, the jury or judge will examine facts and evidence on mitigating as well as aggravating factors related to the criminal act.

Based on their evaluation of the factors, they will decide whether or not to seek the death penalty. Mitigating circumstances will reduce the severity of penalties after considering the reasons behind the crime (such as prolonged abuse or another serious provocation). Aggravating factors, on the other hand, will indicate attributes such as lack of remorse, insult, or malice and will result in more severe penalties.

Role of the Criminal Defense Attorney

When it comes to deciding whether the act of killing was a murder or manslaughter, a skillful criminal defense St. Louis lawyer will try to convince the jury to weigh heavily in favor of the defense. The defense lawyer will try to prove that the defendant committed the act under the influence of extreme passion or emotion, but did not pre-plan or pre-meditate the crime.

In a case of voluntary manslaughter, your St. Louis criminal defense attorney may argue that you acted in self-defense, or you were falsely accused or misidentified by a witness. In a case of involuntary manslaughter, your attorney may try to establish that you were unaware about the potential danger of your actions.

Choose an Experienced St. Louis Attorney for Criminal Defense

Murder or manslaughter charges are extremely serious. Our expert criminal defense lawyers at Miller & Hine will create a solid strategy to fight the charges and aim to have them dropped or reduced. For a free consultation, call (314) 413-2053 or contact us online.