Criminology Police Test Study Guide

What are the Differences between Murder and Manslaughter?

Dec 11th, 2019
differences between murder and manslaughter

What are the differences?

After you pass the police test and become a police officer, you are expected to have a thorough knowledge of the law and definition of crimes. After all, you are expected to arrest suspects against the backdrop of this knowledge.

Here, we review some of the most commonly misunderstood concepts – that of the differences between murder and manslaughter. Part of the problem, of course, is that there are subdivisions within “murder” and “manslaughter” which make things that much more difficult.

Here, though, as prospective police officers in the United States, we have put together the complete guide to help you on your way.

Let’s get started.

What is “Murder”?

Murder refers to the intentional killing of another person with malice.

Each US state has its own definitions as to what qualifies as “malice”. In California, for example, there are two means by which a suspect can commit murder – by express malice or by implied malice.

  • Express malice – malice where the suspect has full intention to kill another person or persons.
  • Implied malice – malice where the suspect is committing an act in full knowledge that it is likely to kill another person or persons.

In both cases, the suspect committing murder is doing so with complete contempt for the life of another person or persons. The intention is to cause direct harm to an individual/multiple people, or to commit an act (implied) where they know they are going to inflict casualties.

Murder – whether implied or expressed – is further divided into first-degree murder and second-degree murder:

  • First-degree murder – a situation in which a suspect premeditatively and deliberately killed another person. The suspect has both planned and intended to kill that person. 
  • Second-degree murder – a situation in which a suspect kills another person without a premeditated plan – i.e. it is unplanned but intended. For example – John visits his neighbor Frank to discuss a long-term ongoing dispute. During it, John impulsively takes out his gun and shoots Frank. It was unplanned but, at the time John did it, it was intended.

Another example of second-degree murder would be if John smashed a hammer to the side of Frank’s head. Whilst John may not have intended to kill Frank – instead only hoping to cause serious bodily injury – he has knowledge that his actions have the possibility of causing death.

Both classifications of murder contrast markedly with what constitutes manslaughter, to which we now turn our attention.

What is “Manslaughter”?

Manslaughter also involves a “conscious disregard for human life”.

However, one of the factors that distinguish manslaughter from murder is that manslaughter does not involve malicious intent.

There are two types of manslaughter: voluntary and involuntary.

  • Voluntary manslaughter – the killing of another person through the defence of yourself or other people, or in what’s called a “heat of passion”, which is defined as being provoked to the point of acting rashly.
  • Involuntary manslaughter – the unintentional killing of a person through a negligent or reckless act – for example: whilst driving under influence (DUI).

We can see how jury’s have often faced complex legal situations.

Jury’s are forced to consider whether an individual is acting according to an intense and rash release of anger – which constitutes voluntary manslaughter – or not. Whilst some cases are clear, many other cases are not so clear cut. 


Let’s briefly summarise these differences between murder and manslaughter.

Murder – killing of another person with “malice”
First-degree Suspect has planned and intended to kill.
Second-degree Suspect has unplanned but intended to kill.
Manslaughter – does not involve “malicious intent”
Voluntary Killing in self-defence, or in a “heat of passion”.
Involuntary Killing through criminally negligent/reckless activity.

During the police test, you may encounter these terms and definitions in the reading comprehension element of the police written exam. Furthermore, these definitions may also appear during any grammar or spelling component of that exam.

Therefore, it’s imperative that you learn how these terms are spelled, how they are grammatically and correctly used within sentences, and what these terms mean and how they differ from one another.

No matter what police department you wish to join, murder and manslaughter are, at some point, bound to eventuate in your career. Take the time to learn these differences. Not only does it benefit your performance during the police test, but also in your future career as a law enforcement officer, too.

Check back to our blog soon for more great content on the essential details and facts you need to know to pass the police officer exam!

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