Within the law, people tend to divide criminal offenses into two broad categories – violent and non-violent offenses. Although the law itself does not explicitly make this distinction, those involved in the criminal justice system tend to categorize crimes as violent or non-violent offenses. At the top of the “violent crime” category are the crimes of murder and manslaughter. Most people have heard of both crimes; however, few people outside of the criminal justice system know the difference between the two crimes – and there are important differences. If you have been accused of murder or manslaughter, or you are the loved one of someone who has, understanding those differences is crucial. To make sure that you do, an Omaha violent crime attorney explains the similarities and differences between the criminal offenses of murder and manslaughter.
Criminal Law Basics
Before focusing on the definitions of the crimes of murder and manslaughter, it may help to learn some criminal law basics so you can put those definitions in context. When a crime is committed – in this case, the death of a person – the prosecuting attorney must first determine that a crime was committed and then decide which criminal law was violated. Sometimes it is clear what the charges should be; however, in other cases, it is not as clear. After the detectives assigned to the case have turned in their report, all evidence reviewed, and the results of forensic testing received, the prosecuting attorney must decide what charges, if any, to file. Consider, for example, a death that was clearly not accidental nor natural. If the prosecuting attorney shoots too high when charging a suspect, there may not be enough evidence for a conviction. Conversely, if the prosecuting attorney shoots too low, the defendant may literally get away with murder.
The Nebraska Revised Statutes Section 28-303 et seq. govern the killing of another person as murder in the first or second degree or manslaughter. The statutes define those three offenses as follows:
- Murder in the First Degree — A person commits murder in the first degree, a Class I or Class IA felony, if he or she kills another person:
- purposely and with deliberate and premeditated malice, or
- in the perpetration of or attempt to perpetrate any sexual assault in the first degree, arson, robbery, kidnapping, hijacking of any public or private means of transportation, or burglary, or
- by administering poison or causing the same to be done; or if by willful and corrupt perjury or subornation of the same he or she purposely procures the conviction and execution of any innocent person.
- Murder in the Second Degree — A person commits murder in the second degree, a Class IB felony, if he causes the death of a person intentionally, but without premeditation.
- Manslaughter — A person commits manslaughter, a Class IIA felony, if he or she kills another without malice upon a sudden quarrel or causes the death of another unintentionally while in the commission of an unlawful act.
So what, exactly, do the statutes mean? First degree murder involves a deliberate killing that was planned ahead of time OR a killing that occurred during any of the specifically mentioned criminal acts. Second degree murder involves a deliberate killing but one that was not planned. Manslaughter involves a killing that was not deliberate but that occurred during the commission of another crime OR a killing that occurs “in the heat of the moment.”
Penalties for Murder and Manslaughter
The State of Nebraska is a death penalty state, meaning that a conviction for first degree murder could result in the defendant being sentenced to death if convicted of the Class I felony. Life imprisonment is the penalty for a conviction of first degree murder as a Class IA felony. Second degree murder carries a sentence of 20 years to life in prison while manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
Contact an Omaha Violent Crime Attorney at Petersen Law Office
If you have been charged with a violent crime in the State of Nebraska, consult with an experienced Omaha violent crime lawyer. In Nebraska contact Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070 to discuss your case.