“There is a big difference between manslaughter and first-degree murder.”— Laura Hall

Unlawful killings in Georgia consist of a wide range of circumstances.  Any unlawful killing of another person is referred to as a “homicide.”  But, this broad term can include murder or manslaughter, depending on the actions and state of mind of the accused.  The difference is significant.

Murder – 1st Degree

Murder is the most severe homicide crime. A person commits the offense of Murder – 1st Degree when he or she unlawfully and with malice aforethought, either express or implied, causes the death of another human being.

Express malice is that deliberate intention to take the life of another human being which is manifested by external circumstances capable of proof. Malice shall be implied where no considerable provocation appears and where all the circumstances of the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.

A person convicted of the offense of Murder – 1st Degree shall be punished by death, by imprisonment for life without parole, or by imprisonment for life with parole.

Murder – 2nd Degree

 A person commits the offense of Murder – 2nd Degree when, in the commission of Cruelty to Children in the 2nd Degree, he or she causes the death of another human being irrespective of malice.

A person convicted of the offense of Murder – 2nd Degree shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than 10 nor more than 30 years.

Felony Murder

A person commits the offense of Felony Murder when, in the commission of a felony, he or she causes the death of another human irrespective of malice.

Here, the killing need not be intentional.  A common example is when a person is driving the “getaway car.”  He or she drives to a gas station and drops off two buddies who go into the store and commit a robbery.  If, during the robbery, anyone is killed, even accidentally, the person sitting in the car outside will be charged with felony murder even though he or she did not even enter the store. The punishment is the same as Murder – 1st Degree.


In Georgia, manslaughter can be either voluntary or involuntary:

Voluntary manslaughter – Voluntary manslaughter occurs when a person intentionally kills another while under the influence of a sudden and violent passion.  This passion must be caused by a serious provocation that would create such passion in a reasonable person.  An example of  sufficient provocation would be when a person catches his or her spouse in the act of adultery.  Voluntary manslaughter is punishable by one to 20 years in prison.

Involuntary manslaughter – Involuntary manslaughter is the unintentional killing of another person.  The killing must result from the commission of an unlawful act other than a felony.  For instance, a person can be convicted when an intoxicated driver kills someone in a vehicle collision. 

Involuntary manslaughter can also be charged as a misdemeanor when the accused causes the death of another human being, without intent, by the commission of a lawful act in an unlawful manner likely to cause death or great bodily harm. For example, if an electrician is working on a new house and negligently wires the home causing a fire that kills someone, he or she can be charged with a misdemeanor. 

The maximum penalty for involuntary manslaughter when an unlawful act is committed is 10 years in prison. Misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter is punishable by up to one year in jail.

Understanding these forms of homicide is important as a citizen; particularly if a person is accused of a crime involving the death of another.

Jason W. Swindle Sr. is the Founder of Swindle Law Group, P.C.; a criminal defense/DUI law firm serving the west Georgia area.