What is homicide?

Homicide is the killing of one human-being by another human-being. There are different types of homicide, they include: murder and manslaughter.

What is the difference between murder and manslaughter?

Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being by another human being with intent. A killing can be lawful when committed in self-defense or for the defense of others. This type of killing is typically committed by police offices. Manslaughter is the killing of a human being without malice aforethought, which means the killing was not intentional. The distinguishing difference between murder and manslaughter is the circumstances regarding the case, mainly, was there intent? If there was intent it is murder, if it was unintentional it is considered manslaughter.

Are there different types of murder and manslaughter?

Yes, there multiple types of murder and manslaughter.

Types of Murder

  • 1st Degree Murder
    • Premeditated Murder (First Degree)
      • The premeditated and deliberate killing of a human-being OR a “felony murder”
    • Felony Murder (First Degree): Occurs when a person is killed while a felony is being committed (such as a bank robbery), the person who is charged with felony murder did not kill them, but was an accomplice in committing the felony OR when a person is accidently killed while a felony is being committed
      • Felonies include: arson, rape, or other sex felonies, robbery, burglary, and kidnapping
  • 2nd Degree Murder: This is a murder that was not premeditated. Behavior that amounts to reckless disregard for human life and results in the death of another would amount to second degree murder. Behavior that was meant to cause serious bodily harm (not meant to kill) but does in fact kill another would also amount to second degree murder.

Types of Manslaughter

  • Involuntary Manslaughter: Unintentional homicide by criminally negligent or reckless conduct OR a killing that occurs during a non-felonious crime. Click here to learn more about involuntary manslaughter in North Carolina.
  • Voluntary Manslaughter: The killing of a person, with intent, under circumstances which would cause a reasonable person to become emotionally or mentally disturbed. Murder charges can be reduced to voluntary manslaughter under mitigating circumstances (heat of passion, diminished capacity). There are two general types of voluntary manslaughter, heat of passion and imperfect self defense.
    • Heat of passion occurs in a state of high emotion where the person claims they had no control over their actions. There must be no time for the person to “cool off”. The classic example of this is when a person comes home to find their spouse cheating on them and immediately kills the spouse’s lover. Assuming the killer did not have a “cooling off” period, this would be an example of the “heat of passion” form of voluntary manslaughter.
    • Imperfect self defense occurs when a person subjectively believes that the use of force is necessary to defend oneself or another, however, this belief is not objectively reasonable. Essentially, the use of force was not reasonable and resulted in the death of the victim.
  • Vehicular Homicide: A homicide that occurs with no intent to kill or cause body harm, but occurs because the driver operated a vehicle with criminal negligence OR simultaneously while engaging in a misdemeanor offense. For information on vehicular homicide, sometimes referred to as vehicular manslaughter, click here.

Are all homicides the same?

No, the severity of punishment is based on the circumstances or facts of the case. There are aggravating circumstances which increase the severity of the crime committed. Aggravating circumstances include, the heinousness of the crime, lack of remorse, and the prior criminal history of the accused person. Aggravating circumstances also include crimes that are committed against people of authority, such as: police officers, judges, politicians, etc. Cases can also have mitigating circumstances, these circumstances do not excuse or justify the crime, but do help to ensure the degree of punishment is fair (can be viewed as mercy).

Sentencing for Homicide

  • First Degree Murder: Class A Felony, punishable by either life without the possibility of parole or the death penalty.
  • Second Degree Murder: Either a Class B1 Felony, punishable by a minimum of 192 months, but up to life in prison, or a Class B2 Felony, punishable by a minimum of 125 months in prison.
  • Felony Murder: Class A Felony, punishable by either life without the possibility of parole or the death penalty.
  • Involuntary Manslaughter: Class F Felony, punishable by a minimum of 13 months in prison.
  • Voluntary Manslaughter: Class D Felony, punishable by a minimum of 51 months in prison.
  • Vehicular Homicide: Class F Felony, punishable by a minimum of 13 months in prison.


Common Defense for Murder

  • heat of passion– A mental state that is provoked by fear, rage, anger or terror.
  • innocence– The accused did not commit the crime.
  • mental insanity– The accused does not have the mentally capable of making a rational decision OR the incident occurred during an episode of some mental disorder and therefore they are not responsible for the crime.
  • mistaken identity– The accused did not commit the crime but was mistaken for the person who did.
  • self-defense– The killing was justified under the circumstances

Common Defenses for Manslaughter

  • self-defense– The killing was absolutely necessary in order to protect themselves or others from grave harm.
  • death was an accident– The killing was an accident and did not occur under negligence or reckless conduct.

If you have been charged with a crime in North or South Carolina, contact us.

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