Difference between murder and manslaughter 2023 (with illustrations & cases)

Today I’m going to cover the core difference between murder and manslaughter according to the law.

With vivid examples, illustrations, and decided cases I will break down every important detail about murder and manslaughter so that you can see what’s the difference between murder and manslaughter.

Difference between murder and manslaughter

MURDERMANSLAUGHTER
Killing with intentionKilling without intention
It is voluntary It can be voluntary or involuntary
Not bailableBailable
Death by hanging/ life imprisonmentImprisonment for certain term.

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 without intention.

The question that 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

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

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.

For Example;

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

Read also: how to win a murder case in court

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

Punishment is the second thing that differentiates murder and manslaughter.

The punishment for murder is death by hanging while depending on the circumstances of the case,  the punishment for Manslaughter may be imprisonment for certain years or for life.

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

countries which abolish death penalty
Abolition of death penalty 2020 data. image credit: amnesty.org

Bail on Murder and Manslaughter

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

Difference between murder and manslaughter illustrations

illustration 1: Provocation

Facts

You meet your friend is reasonably beating your son due to your son’s disrespect.

You get angered and you immediately pull the gun and kill your friend.

Judgment

Since you killed your friend on purpose, he might be charged with second-degree murder.

It’s improbable that a judge or jury will come to the conclusion that the murder was premeditated,  which would have elevated the shooting to first-degree murder.

However, this wasn’t the type of murder committed in a fit of rage that would be considered voluntary manslaughter.

While you may have been provoked in certain ways, the circumstances were not such that a rational person would lose control.

Illustration 2: Heat of Passion

Facts

When your return home, you discover your wife has been beaten and sexually abused.

You took her to the hospital.

On the way to the hospital, your wife tells you that the attacker is Matthew.

Six hours later, after being home from the hospital, you went to the shop and buy a gun.

You went to Matthew and kills him.

Judgment

Because the time for thinking and purchase of the pistol indicates premeditation and forethought, you could be guilty of first-degree murder.

Voluntary manslaughter is a less likely option since a judge or jury could determine that the heat of passion had subsided, even though you were still angry at the time you acted.

illustration 3: Battery 

Facts

You and John debate the right meaning of free will in Hobbes’ philosophy while standing next to each other in a bookstore a few feet from the top of a flight of stairs.

The dispute heats up until John raises a finger at you and you push John backward.

As a result of the push, John falls down and dies from the injuries suffered.

Judgment

You’d most likely be convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

You acted criminally negligently when you shoved a person near the top of a stairwell.

However, the facts do not appear to indicate that John’s actions were so rash as to show a severe disregard for human life, which would have escalated the offense to second-degree murder.

If the evidence showed that You intended to kill John with the push, a judge or jury would have to decide whether the homicide was voluntary manslaughter due to the extent of the provocation.

Difference between murder and manslaughter cases

Bedder v. R. [1954] 2 All E.R. 801,

The court found murder.

facts

the accused who was sexually impotent attempted in vain to have intercourse with a prostitute, who jeered at him and hit and kicked him.

He lost his head, stabbed her with a knife, and killed her. On his trial, he pleaded provocation.

Held

A conviction for murder.

The jury found out that a reasonable man would not have been provocative under the circumstances and they were probably directed not to take special regard of the fact that the defendant was sexually impotent.

Herman Nyingo v. R. [1995] T.L.R 178

The court found murder.

Facts

the appellant was convicted of murder by the High Court.

In an unprovoked manner using a heavy stick, he had hit the deceased hard on the head.

Subsequently the deceased died.

The appellant was heard saying “I am killing you because of your sorcery”.

On appeal, the appellant complained that the trial court should have accepted his defense of provocation and self-defense and found him of a lesser offense of manslaughter.

held

  • Normally the defense of provocation is available in circumstances, which would otherwise constitute murder except for the sudden loss of control of oneself as a result of some act, which provokes the accused person.
  • There was no provocation at all in this case.
  • In the absence of a fight between the appellant and the deceased and that it was the appellant who started attacking the deceased with a heavy stick forcefully the defense of self-defense was not available either.
  • The appellant’s utterance that he was killing the deceased because of his sorcery is a clear manifestation of malice aforethought.

Moses Michael @ Tall v. R. [1994] T.L.R 195

Court found Murder

Facts

The appellant killed a woman he was cohabiting with and was convicted of murder.

On appeal, he argued that he ought not to have been convicted of murder because malice aforethought was not established.

The issue was whether malice aforethought may be inferred from the amount of force used; and whether conduct may be indicative of malice.

Held

  1. Malice aforethought may be inferred from the amount of force, which the offender employs in inflicting fatal injury.
  2. The conduct of the accused may be indicative of malice aforethought as it was in this case where the appellant was persistent in beating the deceased for a long time and prevented intervention by persons who wanted to help the deceased.

Wilson Nyamhanga v. R. [1984] T.L.R 340,

The court found manslaughter.

Facts

the appellant a prisoner, killed an inmate at Isanga prison.

The deceased was fighting with a fellow prisoner.

A commotion ensued.

During such commotion, the appellant stabbed the deceased and uttered words to the effect that the deceased
had to die on that day.

The trial court found that all the ingredients of the offense of murder, including malice aforethought, were established and convicted the appellant of murder.

On appeal, the issue was whether given the fight and commotion malice aforethought could be said to have been
established.

Held

The stabbing by the appellant took place in the heat of passion generated by the fight and commotion, although at one point of the fight and commotion the appellant told the deceased “lazima ufe Leo”, that is, “you must die today”, that statement by itself is not evidence of premeditated killing, since the statement was made in the course of and during the fight and commotion and not before.

Singh v. R. [1962] E.A 13,

court found Manslaughter

facts

Singh was convicted for the murder of his wife.

The evidence was that after an act of sexual intercourse Singh had strangled his wife and then tried to make it appear that she had been robbed and stabbed to death on her way to an outside toilet.

Death was due to asphyxia.

The defense argued that Singh killed his wife accidentally during a sexual embrace and that the feigned robbery was an act of panic.

Held

There was real doubt as to whether Singh intended to cause grievous harm or knew that he was causing grievous harm. —Manslaughter.

Isack Kimaro
Isack Kimaro

Editor-in-chief and founder of sherianajamii.com. Holder of Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) and Post Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. Lawyer by profession and blogger by passion