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Murder, Manslaughter, Homicide — What’s the Difference?

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

Everyone loves a good murder-mystery.  Netflix’s recent release, Dead to Me, is a great example.  Without giving too much away, Christina Applegate plays a sarcastic real estate agent named Jen, whose husband has been killed in a hit-and-run. The show revolves around the unexpected friendship that blooms between Jen and the driver of the car that hit her husband. So if the driver does get caught, what crime should they be charged with?

The answer depends on the intent of the driver and many other factual circumstances. 

Think about this for a moment: all murder is homicide, but not all homicide is murder. This is because murder is a specific type of homicide. Homicide is generally defined as the act of one human being killing another human being. The varying degrees of homicide in Arkansas are as follows:

Capital Murder

This is the highest level homicide offense. A person is guilty of capital murder if the person attempted to commit or did commit a violent crime such as kidnapping, robbery, or arson, and in doing so, the person causes the death of another human being. Capital murder also includes any death that occurred as a result of a person that premeditated and deliberately intended to cause the death of any other person.

For example, if Debbie, with premeditation and deliberation, intended to kill Robert, but instead kills Tom by accident, Debbie is still guilty of capital murder for the killing of Tom. There are a host of more killings that constitute capital murder, but for the brevity of this article, we won’t go into all of them and let’s hope you won’t ever have to find out about them. Capital murder in Arkansas is punishable by death or life imprisonment without parole.      

Murder in the 1st Degree

The next-highest degree of homicide is 1st degree murder.  First degree murder includes those deaths that occur during the commission or attempted commission of a felony, or when a person purposefully causes the death of another person.  Murder in the 1st degree is a Class Y felony that is punishable by up to life in prison.   

Murder in the 2nd Degree

This degree of murder includes deaths caused by actions that constitute an extreme indifference to the value of human life. Example: driving a car on a busy sidewalk or another activity where the death of an individual is highly probable.  A person is also guilty of 2nd degree murder when that person intended to cause serious physical injury to another person, but death is caused instead.  2nd degree murder is a Class A felony and is punishable by up to thirty (30) years in prison.  


Now we’re getting into the homicides that do not constitute murder.  A manslaughter could have been a murder, but there is some emotional disturbance that creates a reasonable excuse.  In law school, they teach us that the crime of manslaughter is done in the “heat of passion.” The textbook example is when a husband walks in on his wife with another man and the husband kills the other man in a rage.  Manslaughter also includes a person purposefully causing or aiding another person to commit suicide. Manslaughter is a Class C felony and is punishable by up to ten (10) years in prison. 

Negligent Homicide

A person commits negligent homicide when they have unintentionally, but negligently, caused the death of another.  Negligent homicides are generally considered Class A misdemeanors, punishable by up to one (1) year in prison. However, when a negligent homicide is committed as a result of operating a vehicle, an aircraft, or a watercraft, while intoxicated, fatigued, or while passing a stopped school bus, then the crime is a Class B felony and is punishable by up to twenty (20) years in prison.

In Dead to Me, assuming the driver of the car was not driving extremely recklessly and did not intend to kill anyone or cause serious physical injury to anyone, the driver would most likely only be guilty of negligent homicide for failing to stop their car in time.  

Here’s our challenge to you! Whenever you watch or read your favorite crime drama, think about the killer’s intent and the circumstances surrounding the death. Then try to determine which homicide offense is most applicable.

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