What is the difference between murder and manslaughter in Missouri? What are the penalties for murder and manslaughter convictions? The first thing to know is that if you are charged with either of these crimes, you must contact a Jefferson County criminal defense attorney at once.

Homicide is the killing of one human being by another, but a homicide is not always a murder. Some homicides are considered voluntary or involuntary manslaughter.

How are murder and manslaughter crimes defined in Missouri? How are murder and manslaughter convictions penalized? What else should you know about homicide, the law, and your rights in this state? If you will continue reading, those questions are about to be answered.

Murder in 2020 and 2021

More murders were committed in the United States in 2020 than in any year since 1995. Based on preliminary FBI data, murder in the U.S. increased by 25 percent in 2020. That amounts to more than 20,000 murders in 2020, up from about 16,000 murders in 2019.

The surge in murders in 2020 was “the largest increase in violence we’ve seen since 1960,” said John Roman, a criminal justice expert at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. “We’ve never seen a year-over-year increase even approaching this magnitude.”

Not only was the murder rate up overall in 2020, but murder was increasing everywhere in the U.S. – in big and small cities, in urban and rural areas, and in every part of the nation. However, we can’t yet know if 2020’s rising murder rate represents a permanent increase in murder rates.

What Are the Different Homicide Charges in Missouri?

When one person kills another person in Missouri, one of these charges may be brought against the perpetrator:

  1. First-degree murder
  2. Second-degree murder
  3. Voluntary manslaughter
  4. Involuntary manslaughter

First-Degree Murder

The exact definition of first-degree murder in Missouri is spelled out by state law: “A person commits the crime of murder in the first degree if he knowingly causes the death of another person after deliberation upon the matter.”

First-degree murder is a Class A felony in this state, and a convicted first-degree murderer will be sentenced to either death or to life in prison, with these exceptions:

  1. The offender was less than sixteen years old at the time of the murder.
  2. The offender lacked the capacity to understand that he or she was committing a crime.

Missouri is a death penalty state for first-degree murder. The state conducted 285 executions from 1810 to 1965. Hanging was used until 1937, when lethal gas became the state’s method of execution. In 1987, lethal injection was added as an option for inmates facing the death penalty.

Second-Degree Murder

Unlike first-degree murder, a second-degree murder is not a planned, intentional action. To convict someone of second-degree murder, the prosecutor must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant killed willfully and without lawful justification.

Second-degree murder is a Class A felony punishable in Missouri by ten to thirty years or life in prison. If the murder occurred while committing another felony such as a burglary or robbery, the penalty for second-degree murder is added to the sentence for the other felony.

Voluntary and Involuntary Manslaughter

Voluntary manslaughter differs from murder because the killer acted emotionally and “in the heat of the moment” without thinking twice. Voluntary manslaughter is a Class B felony. The penalty for a Class B felony is five to fifteen years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

Involuntary manslaughter happens when someone is killed accidentally because of another person’s criminal negligence, or when someone is killed during the commission of another crime but there was no intent to cause bodily injury or death.

First-degree involuntary manslaughter happens when someone causes the death of another while operating a vehicle or a boat while intoxicated. Second-degree involuntary manslaughter is causing a death negligently by a means other than intoxicated boat or vehicle operation.

First-degree involuntary manslaughter may be considered a Class B or C felony, depending on the circumstances. The penalty for Class B felony convictions is five to fifteen years in prison. For Class C felony convictions, the penalty is up to seven years in prison and a fine up to $5,000.

Second-degree involuntary manslaughter is a Class D felony punishable in Missouri by up to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

What Are the Defenses to Murder and Manslaughter Charges?

Murder and manslaughter cases are always complicated, and a number of questions must be asked and answered. Witnesses must be interrogated and timelines must be confirmed. Medical evidence and the cause of death are critical elements in any murder or manslaughter case.

In Missouri, a murder defendant’s claim that he or she was “under the influence of sudden passion” is a common defense which suggests that someone may commit a single murder in the “heat of passion” and never commit another murder. It is considered brief, temporary insanity.

Other defenses to a murder charge include mistaken identity, self-defense and the defense of others, justifiable homicide, accidental death, or the proper exercise of a defendant’s official duties.

If a defendant who is charged with murder can establish an alibi or present exculpatory evidence, that defendant will probably be acquitted or the case will be dismissed by the court.

What Will a Missouri Homicide Lawyer Do On Your Behalf?

If you become the target of a murder or manslaughter investigation in the State of Missouri, do not answer any questions from police officers or prosecutors before consulting with a Missouri homicide attorney at the first possible opportunity.

And do not try to act as your own attorney – nothing is more serious in the criminal justice system than a murder or manslaughter charge. In your defense, a Jefferson County criminal defense attorney will:

  1. protect your legal rights and clearly explain your rights and options to you
  2. gather evidence and interrogate witnesses on your behalf
  3. use every available legal tool in an effort to have the charge reduced or dismissed
  4. if your case goes to trial, explain to the jurors why they should find you not guilty

Facing a murder charge is one of the most serious things that can happen to anyone. If you are charged with murder or manslaughter in Missouri, you must contact a Jefferson County criminal defense attorney at once.