The difference between manslaughter and murder

Illustration of killing Image: PIXABAY

The difference between manslaughter and murder

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There are those who think manslaughter is a man’s laughter

Manslaughter has got to be one crime that has many in the dark concerning what it is. Then there are those who think manslaughter is the sound a man makes when he laughs. If either of these descriptions fits your predicament, this article will enlighten you.

Murder is defined in Section 203 of the Penal Code as causing death of a person with malice aforethought, through an unlawful act or omission. For murder to occur, two elements are necessary to be proven. First, there must be an act or an omission (failure to act) that was unlawful. Second, there has to be malice aforethought.

Deriving from this, one may ask, are there lawful acts that may cause death? The answer is in the affirmative. For instance, a person acting in self-defence won’t be criminally liable if their act causes death, provided their life was in such danger as to warrant the act causing death. A police officer dealing with armed criminals may also be absolved of any charges if they kill such criminals.

Malice aforethought is having a state of mind where one intends to cause death. It entails various elements, outlined in Section 206 of the Penal Code. These include: intention to cause death or grievous harm, knowledge that an act could cause death or grievous harm, or intention to commit a felony.

Manslaughter on the other hand is where death is caused by an unlawful act or omission, but without malice aforethought (that is, without an intention to cause death). The distinguishing factor between murder and manslaughter is the lack of intention to cause death. In murder, that intention must be proven. In manslaughter, there isn’t intention to cause death, but death still results nonetheless.

To illustrate the two using examples, if a person, say, stabs another and this causes death, that is a case of murder. There is an unlawful act (stabbing) accompanied by malice aforethought (intention to cause death). The malice in such a case is that the perpetrator either intended to cause death or knew that their actions could result in death.

With manslaughter, the perfect case is usually that where two people are engaged in a fight and in the process, one gets injured and dies, probably due to a medical condition that was unknown to the other. While the death was caused by an unlawful act (fighting), there was no intention to cause such death.

Regarding the penalties, a person who commits murder can be sentenced to death. However, in most cases, the court substitutes this with a life sentence as courts are moving away from retributive justice and choosing restorative justice. The person may also be sentenced to a certain number of years determined by the court.

The penalty for manslaughter is determined by the court depending on the circumstances of the case, but may be from as little as days or weeks to a maximum of life imprisonment.

It is worth noting that in Kenya, acts such as euthanasia (mercy killing) are not accepted in law. As such, a person who carries out such a procedure will be held criminally liable for murder.

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