What is the difference between Homicide, Manslaughter and Murder?

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May 18

Baker, Lewis, Schwisow & Laws

What is the difference between Homicide, Manslaughter and Murder?

by Baker, Lewis, Schwisow & Laws

What is the difference between Homicide, Manslaughter and Murder?

In non-legal environments, many people use the terms homicide and murder interchangeably. That can lead to a lot of confusion when a criminal case is underway. What exactly does homicide mean? What about murder? Or manslaughter?

All refer to an event that caused the death of a person. However, there are significant differences between the three words. Here’s a rundown of what each word means.


Homicide is a very broad term that refers to any time an individual kills another individual. There are three types of homicide: justifiable homicide, excusable homicide and criminal homicide.

Justifiable homicide refers any time someone kills another person as part of their line of duty, as well as someone who kills another in self-defense.

For example, a soldier who kills an enemy combatant is committing justifiable homicide. So is a public official carrying out a death sentence. Likewise, a person who is defending him or herself or somebody else from threats of deadly force and subsequently kills the assailant in self-defense is also committing justifiable homicide.

Excusable homicides refer to accidents. If a person dies because of an accident but the accident wasn’t caused by any kind of negligence or other criminal activity, the homicide is considered excusable. For example, if a person is killed in a car accident that wasn’t caused by reckless driving, intoxication or other negligent driving behavior, it is still a homicide, but it’s an excusable one.

Neither excusable nor justifiable homicides are criminal.

Criminal homicide, the third category, is a crime. Murder and manslaughter are both types of criminal homicide.

In other words, all murders are homicides but not all homicides are murders.


Manslaughter also refers to a death caused by an accident. However, there is a stark difference between manslaughter and excusable homicide. In manslaughter cases, the killer was engaging in negligent, reckless or otherwise criminal behavior that resulted in a death. 

An example of manslaughter is when someone drives drunk and causes an accident that kills one or more people. The drunk driver didn’t intend to kill anyone, but drinking and driving is illegal and was the cause of the accident.

The key in manslaughter cases is that though the defendant did not intend to kill anyone, his or her actions were reckless and/or negligent.


Murder is an even more serious charge than manslaughter because it refers exclusively to cases where an individual intentionally kills another person. The sentence for murder is generally much more severe than manslaughter.

Any case where one person is accused of intentionally killing another is murder, regardless of whether the murder was premeditated or not.

The bottom line is that an accusation of murder or manslaughter against you or someone you know is a very serious and stressful situation. Understanding the charges against you is the first step to determining the best way to manage your defense. Fighting a murder or manslaughter charge is difficult and the stakes are high. Don’t gamble with your future. Turn to an experienced defense team to protect you and your family.

Have you been accused of murder or manslaughter? Contact the Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyers at Baker, Lewis, Schwisow & Laws

The expert defense team at Baker, Lewis, Schwisow & Laws, PLLC vigorously defend the rights of individuals facing a multitude of charges in Seattle, Bellevue, and Kirkland. Contact us today at 206.209.0608 or fill out our online contact form to get more information or to get a free case review!

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