Email or Call (215) 564-0644

    Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Discusses Homicides – What is the Difference Between Manslaughter and Murder Charges?

    Both manslaughter and murder charges involve the unlawful killing of a person; they are both homicides.  However, manslaughter is a lesser crime.  There are also varying degrees of manslaughter and murder crimes.  See a detailed discussion of Philadelphia murder laws here.

    For purposes of this article, we will discuss murder in the first degree and voluntary manslaughter.  The key difference between voluntary manslaughter and first degree murder in Pennsylvania is the defendant’s state of mind.

    Voluntary Manslaughter

    Voluntary manslaughter is defined in section 2503 of Pennsylvania Statutes Title 18 Pa.C.S.A. Crimes and Offenses, which provides:

    (a) General rule.–A person who kills an individual without lawful justification commits voluntary manslaughter if at the time of the killing he is acting under a sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation by:

    (1) the individual killed; or

    (2) another whom the actor endeavors to kill, but he negligently or accidentally causes the death of the individual killed.

    (b) Unreasonable belief killing justifiable.–A person who intentionally or knowingly kills an individual commits voluntary manslaughter if at the time of the killing he believes the circumstances to be such that, if they existed, would justify the killing under Chapter 5 of this title (relating to general principles of justification), but his belief is unreasonable.

    (c) Grading.–Voluntary manslaughter is a felony of the first degree.

    Serious provocation is also called heat of passion.  In other words, the individual is acting under a sudden and intense passion.

    For example, a boyfriend suspects his girlfriend is cheating on him.  They have an argument, and the argument quickly escalates. They start to get physical and start pushing and hitting each other.  The boyfriend becomes so enraged that he shoots his girlfriend.  Prior to the argument, the boyfriend had no intention of shooting the girlfriend.  But due to the heated argument, he is provoked and his judgment and intentions are affected. The boyfriend is charged with voluntary manslaughter.

    First Degree Murder

    Murder in the first degree is defined in Pennsylvania’s Murder Statute, 18 Pennsylvania Statutes Annotated Section 2502(a), which provides: “A criminal homicide constitutes murder of the first degree when it is committed by an intentional killing.”

    The question then becomes, what is intentional killing? It is defined as: “[k]illing by means of poison, or by lying in wait, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate and premeditated killing.”

    Using the same above example, except this time the boyfriend knows for a fact that his girlfriend is cheating on him.  He is so angry that he plans on killing her.  He goes to confront her and shoots her.  Because he planned on the killing, it was an intentional killing.  He is charged with first degree murder.

    About David Nenner, a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer

    Mr. Nenner is a highly experienced Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer and has represented defendants accused in murder cases, from manslaughter to first degree murder. Mr. Nenner always offers a FREE consultation, unlike many criminal defense lawyers.  Call 215.564.0644 to schedule a consultation.

    David S. Nenner

    "Top Rated Criminal Defense Lawyer"

    MURDER, Att. Murder CHARGES – Negotiated Significantly Lower prison sentence (Feb. 2022, PHILA)

    Mr. Anderson faced murder and attempted murder charges after an incident in Northeast Philadelphia involving the shooting death of Anderson’s sister’s boyfriend and the boyfriend’s roommate who was shot 5 times and survived. The decedent had previously beaten the...


    The Commonwealth alleged that Mr. Shelton shot and seriously injured a male in a bar in North Philadelphia called Circles. There was video of the shooting which happened outside the bar. However, Mr. Nenner presented witnesses who testified that the person in the bar...


    Mr. Nenner's client was charged with multiple crimes (murder, conspiracy, aggravated assault, robbery, etc.) after a shooting death occurred at a gambling house in North Philadelphia. At trial, Mr. Nenner successfully presented a self-defense argument and convinced...


    Mr. Nenner’s client was charged with murder and gun charges in Philadelphia. The client was accused of shooting and killing another male on Arch Street near the 5600 block of Ithan Street in Philadelphia. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty after deliberating...

    Drug Possession Case – Motion to Suppress Granted

    Mr. Nenner presented evidence that to show that the traffic stop was a pretextual stop. The officer had no reason to pull the car over. The judge agreed and suppressed the evidence. As a result, the prosecution withdrew the charges.

    Drug Charges in Philadelphia PA State Court – Possession of a Controlled Substance

    In most criminal drug cases in Philadelphia, there are two common charges or offenses: Possession of a Controlled Substance and Possession of a Controlled Substance with Intent to Deliver. In addition to these drug charges, there are other drug related charges, such...

    Drug Charges in Philadelphia PA State Court – What is “Possession”

    Page last reviewed and updated: October 20, 2019 One of the most common types of criminal state (PA) cases in Philadelphia is possession of drugs. Possession of a Controlled Substance (PCS) and Possession of a Controlled Substance with Intent to Deliver (PWID) often...

    Pennsylvania Second Degree Murder (AKA: Felony Murder) Law

    Philadelphia criminal lawyer David S. Nenner discusses the current status of second degree murder law in Pennsylvania. This is also known as the felony murder rule. Get info about PA court decisions and the agency theory. Not every case of death during the commission of a felony will result in a second degree murder conviction in PA.

    Philadelphia Murder Cases – Police Investigation Tactics

    Questioning Police Officer Tactics in Philadelphia Murder Cases Within the last 10 years, there have been several murder Philadelphia criminal cases in which the accused individuals were acquitted of the crimes. In these cases, the individuals spent months, if not...

    Murder Charges in Pennsylvania – Murder Law in Pennsylvania

    An explanation of Pennsylvania murder laws including Section 2502. What is murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree and murder in the third degree. Get a summary of the definitions under Pennsylvania criminal law.