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 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.