What is the difference between murder and manslaughter?

Murder and manslaughter are very confusing terms in criminal law. This post aims to clear that confusion.

Here I will break down every important detail about murder and manslaughter so as you can have a clear understanding of the two.

Murder Vs Manslaughter

Murder is one of the popular offenses. Its history can be traced far back to the origin of human civilization. Murder is termed to be against the law of man and the law of God.

On another hand, manslaughter might not be a new term to you (I will explain it in the course of showing the difference).

Manslaughter is something closely related to murder. What differentiates murder and manslaughter in the eyes of law? I urge you to read further to find the answer.

Difference between murder and manslaughter

The major difference between murder and manslaughter is that; murder is causing the death of another with malice aforethought by an unlawful act or omission while Manslaughter is causing the death of another by an unlawful act or omission without malice aforethought.  In simple terms, murder is killing with intention while manslaughter is killing with no intention.

The question What might come to your mind now is how can a person kill without an intention? In the eyes of the law, it is possible.

A person is termed to kill without malice aforethought/intention in the following circumstances

  1. When a person kills out of the disease of mind/insanity
  2. When a person kills under duress/coercion
  3. When a person Kill under the influence of drugs/intoxication
  4. When a person kills out of provocation
READ ALSO  What are the Rights of Arrested person?

I have covered insanity, duress, intoxication, and provocation on Criminal law defenses that you may raise in a criminal case.

Generally, the line between murder and manslaughter is very narrow. That line is drawn by ascertaining the intention of the offender. The intention of the offender can be obtained by looking at the circumstance of the offense.


When A intentionally wants to kill B by shooting. Accidently B escape and the bullet shot C and died. Here A will be liable for the Murder of C regardless of his intention was to kill B.

it doesn’t matter whether the person intended to be killed is the one actually killed or not. This situation is technically known as ‘the Doctrine of Transferred Malice’.

The above example emphasizes the importance of intention in the offense of murder and manslaughter.

Manslaughter can be voluntary or involuntary:

Voluntary Manslaughter consists of those homicides which would have been murder but are in fact manslaughter because the accused was either provoked or was party to the killing in pursuance of a suicide pact.

What constitutes involuntary manslaughter is not clear and it must be approached with caution e.g. negligence, recklessness, etc.

Punishment of Murder and Manslaughter

This is the second thing that differentiates murder and manslaughter. The punishment of murder is death by hanging while the punishment of Manslaughter may be imprisonment for certain years or for life.

However, the death penalty has received mass critics and some countries have abolished it.

Bail on Murder and Manslaughter

In Tanzania and in most common law countries Murder is not bailable but manslaughter is available.

READ ALSO  9 reasons why the court may refuse to grant bail on someone


This article revealed the major difference between murder and manslaughter. It explained that the main difference between murder and manslaughter is intention.

Isack Kimaro

Editor-in-chief and founder of sherianajamii.com. Holder of Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Mzumbe University and Post Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the Law school of Tanzania. Lawyer by profession and blogger by passion.

Recent Content