Murder is an incredibly serious crime. Murder is defined in the legal system today as killing someone illegally, and with intent. Legal killings, such as the death penalty, would not be considered murder. Killings that occur with no intent to kill the person have a different name.
There are three degrees of murder recognized in the US. First degree murder is a murder that involves deliberate intent to kill and a premeditated plan of action. One example of this type of murder would be if a husband plotted to kill his wife because he hated her and actually went through with his plan. Second degree murder is a murder that takes place during a felony. If a car thief ends up killing a drive during a carjacking, that would be considered second degree murder. Third degree murder is the third category, and occurs only when the killer intended to harm someone, and kills them instead.
An entirely different kind of murder is manslaughter. Manslaughter can only occur if the court feels that the killer is not legally as culpable as a murderer. Intent to kill, premeditation and malice are not present in a manslaughter case. The court may decide that the case is manslaughter based on a variety of reasons, including negligence, accidents, provocation, inept self-defense, diminished capacity or mental problems.
The three main manslaughter categories are voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter and vehicular manslaughter. Voluntary manslaughter is a murder that is committed without prior intent or premeditation. The killer is caught up in the heat of the moment. To qualify for this category of manslaughter, the killer must in a state of mind caused by a severe emotional and mental disturbance that would even affect a normal person. For instance, a woman comes home and finds her husband in bed with another man. In a fit of anger, she kills them both.
If someone accidentally kills someone while committing a misdemeanor, they can be charged with involuntary manslaughter, also commonly known as misdemeanor manslaughter. It does not matter that the killer had no intent to kill anyone - if someone died because of his illegal or negligent activity, he is responsible. A common involuntary manslaughter case may involve someone firing a gun into the sky, and accidentally killing someone when inevitably, the bullet comes down.
Vehicular manslaughter is when a person kills someone with a vehicle, such as a car. The driver must do something negligent or illegal in order to qualify for this charge. For example, if the driver is drinking and driving, or getting high, when they kill someone, they are guilty of vehicular manslaughter.
The various penalties for murder and manslaughter can include the death penalty, life in prison with or without parole, prison time, fines, mandatory psychological counseling and community service. The death penalty is an extremely controversial issue. Many people say that murderers deserve to die, while others say that killing another person perpetuates the cycle of violence and death.