Difference between Manslaughter and Murder in North Carolina

If you are facing either a manslaughter or murder charge in North Carolina, your life is in serious jeopardy. The life you have known can be turned upside down depending on the charges and your defense. Life in prison or death by lethal injection are possibilities as the penalty for the alleged crime. You need the very best legal representation to fight back to either get the charges dismissed or at the very least reduced to a lesser offense with less severe penalties. You will only get one chance to defend yourself. You want to be sure it is done right. Be sure that you have the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney to use all possible defenses.

At Sandman, Finn & Fitzhugh Attorneys at Law, your Raleigh criminal lawyers, our attorneys are experienced defending those who have faced manslaughter and murder charges. In this article, we distinguish the key differences between murder and manslaughter in North Carolina.


Manslaughter is the killing of a person without having any malicious intention or planning. There are three types of manslaughter: voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, and vehicular manslaughter.

Voluntary Manslaughter

Voluntary manslaughter is the intentional killing of a person resulting from some sort of provocation, often referred to as a “heat of passion” crime.  A person can be charged with this crime if he/she committed a killing by acting rashly, under the influence of extreme emotional distress, or in an imperfect self-defense situation where he/she believed force was necessary to defend themselves. However, it was not objectively reasonable. Voluntary manslaughter is not premeditated. So, voluntary manslaughter can possibly be seen as a lesser form of a murder charge. North Carolina penalizes the offense, when convicted, with a minimum of four years in prison.

Involuntary Manslaughter

This crime is an unintentional killing committed without malicious intent and not in the heat of passion. Involuntary manslaughter occurs when a person disregards risk and it results in a person’s death through carelessness. You could be charged with this offense if you were criminally negligent, engaged in reckless conduct, or were committing a non-felony crime at the time of the killing. Because involuntary manslaughter is not done intentionally, it is considered to be a less serious crime than murder or voluntary manslaughter. Defenses to involuntary manslaughter laws include self-defense, accidental death, and actual innocence. It is a Class F felony and punishment is 13 to 16 months in prison.

Vehicular Manslaughter

If you killed someone with your vehicle and it was through your negligence or reckless actions, you can be charged with vehicular manslaughter. Vehicular manslaughter can be a result of illegal driving of an automobile, including gross negligence, drunk driving, reckless driving, or speeding. In North Carolina, vehicular manslaughter can be charged as a Class D felony. A conviction can result in a prison sentence of 38 to 120 months and a fine to be determined by the judge.


In North Carolina, murder is the intentional killing of another person with malicious planning. Malice is the intent to commit an unlawful act or cause harm without legal justification or excuse. Malice involves the desire to cause pain, injury, or distress to another person. Murder is a Class A felony and carries a potential sentence of life imprisonment without parole or even the death penalty. A strong legal strategy by a quality criminal defense attorney is necessary when you are charged with murder. There are several types of murder offenses.

First-Degree Murder

First-degree murder is killing a person with premeditation, meaning that it involved planning, and was done deliberately or was a felony murder. It is a Class A felony.

Felony Murder

Felony murder is a type of first-degree murder where a person is killed while a felony crime is committed. A person who is an accomplice and did not commit the killing or a person who accidentally shot someone while committing a felony could be charged with felony murder. Felonies include:

  • Arson
  • Rape or a felony sex offense
  • Robbery
  • Kidnapping
  • Burglary
  • Any felony committed or attempted with the use of a deadly weapon

Second-Degree Murder

In North Carolina, second-degree murder does not involve premeditation. However, it does involve reckless disregard for another person’s life and, therefore, it is considered intentional. A second-degree murder defense can include insanity, self-defense, and intoxication.

Contact Sandman, Finn & Fitzhugh

If you are charged with either manslaughter or murder in North Carolina, you need qualified representation with experience in defense for these crimes. You should seek legal counsel as soon as possible in order to formulate a legal strategy. Our Raleigh criminal lawyers are experienced and knowledgeable in defending those who have been charged with murder and manslaughter. Call or contact us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for a free consultation at (919) 845-6688 or complete the contact form to speak to one of our attorneys today.