What’s the Difference Between Homicide, Murder, and Manslaughter?

What’s the difference between homicide, murder, and manslaughter in SC?

Although most people probably think that homicide and murder are interchangeable terms that mean the same thing, that’s not true when it comes to the legal definitions in SC.

Below, we will cover the basics of murder, homicide, and manslaughter and their legal definitions, including:

  • The difference between homicide and murder,
  • The legal definition of murder in SC,
  • What the terms mean to a medical examiner, and
  • The difference between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter in SC.

What’s the Difference Between Homicide and Murder?

Although homicide is murder and murder is homicide to most people, they have very different definitions for a defense attorney, prosecutor, or medical examiner.

Homicide is when a person dies, and their death is caused by another person. It doesn’t mean that the person committed murder, or that the killing was unlawful, however. A homicide could mean:

  • A cold-blooded execution,
  • A legally justified killing when an intruder is killed by a homeowner in self defense,
  • An unintentional firearms-related death in a hunting accident, or
  • A killing of another person in the heat of passion.

Murder in SC

Murder or manslaughter is always homicide, but homicide is not always murder or manslaughter…

Murder has a very specific definition in SC – SC Code §16-3-10 says that murder is “the killing of another person with malice aforethought, either express or implied.”

Malice aforethought is the mental state that the prosecution must prove before a person can be convicted of murder, and, depending on the circumstances, it could mean:

  • The specific intent to kill a person,
  • The intent to inflict grievous bodily harm on a person,
  • Reckless indifference to human life, or
  • The intent to commit a felony when a person dies during the commission of the felony.

Homicide and Murder to a Medical Examiner

When a medical examiner determines 1) the cause of death and 2) the manner of death, they do not distinguish between homicide and murder.

The cause of death identifies the specific disease or injury that resulted in the person’s death, but the medical examiner does not go on to identify why an accident happened or why the deceased person was killed.

The manner of death is limited to five possibilities for a medical examiner:

  1. Natural death: a death caused by a disease or other natural process,
  2. Accidental death: an unnatural death caused by a chance happening – this usually includes overdoses, traffic fatalities, or deaths that occur due to medical complications during surgery,
  3. Suicide: death from a self-inflicted injury where there is evidence that the person intended to kill themselves,
  4. Homicide: a death caused by the actions of another person – this could include justifiable homicide, manslaughter, or murder, and
  5. Undetermined: where the medical examiner does not have sufficient evidence to determine the circumstances of the person’s death.

Manslaughter in SC

There are two types of manslaughter in SC – voluntary and involuntary. Both are considered homicide, but neither fits the definition of murder.

Voluntary Manslaughter

SC Code § 16-3-50 defines voluntary manslaughter as “the unlawful killing of another without malice,” and the offense carries from two to thirty years in prison if convicted.

Voluntary manslaughter is further defined in SC appellate opinions as an unlawful killing that happens 1) in the heat of passion and 2) after “sufficient legal provocation.”

Voluntary manslaughter does not mean “criminal negligence” – it requires a specific intent to kill. It covers situations where 30 to life for a murder conviction doesn’t really make sense, though – when a person loses control after being provoked, the consequences should be less than when a person kills without provocation.

Involuntary Manslaughter

SC Code § 16-3-60 defines involuntary manslaughter as “criminal negligence,” or “the reckless disregard of the safety of others,” and the offense carries up to five years if convicted.

SC appellate opinions further define the offense of involuntary manslaughter and break it down into two types of involuntary manslaughter:

  • Killing another person while engaged in an illegal activity that would not ordinarily result in great bodily injury or death, and
  • Killing another person while engaged in a lawful activity.

The State does not have to prove malice aforethought, or even an intent to kill, because involuntary manslaughter is based on criminal negligence – but for the defendant’s reckless disregard for the safety of others, the alleged victim would not have died.

Criminal Defense Lawyers in Charleston, SC

Charleston, SC criminal defense attorney Grant B. Smaldone represents people charged with crimes in SC state and federal courts.

If you have been charged with a crime or believe that you are under investigation in the Charleston, Georgetown, or Myrtle Beach areas of SC, call now at (843) 808-2100 or send an email to schedule a free consultation.