What is the Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter in Maryland?
Murder and Manslaughter both result in the death of another person, but in Maryland, there are subtle differences between these offenses. Under Maryland law, the killing of another human being is broken down into three categories, from most to least serious: first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and manslaughter. Each offense is a felony under state law but carries various penalties.
First Degree Murder
Maryland Criminal Code § 2-201 lays out the laws and penalties concerning first-degree murder. Under Maryland Criminal Code § 2-201(a), first-degree murder is defined as a murder that meets one of the following criteria:
• premeditated, willful, and deliberate;
• committed by a person who waited for the victim to arrive (i.e., lying in wait);
• committed by poisoning the victim;
• committed in the commission or attempted commission of another serious crime.
A murder that occurs while someone is committing or attempting to commit another crime (i.e., a “serious crime”) can be first-degree murder if the underlying crime is:
• first-degree arson;
• first, second, or third-degree burglary;
• carjacking or armed carjacking;
• first degree escape from a correctional facility;
• mayhem (meaning the act of disfiguring a body);
• first or second-degree sexual offenses;
• sodomy; or
• the manufacturing (or possession) of a destructive device.
In addition, under Maryland Criminal Code § 2-201(c), anyone who solicits another or conspires with another to commit murder can be guilty of murder in the first degree, if the murder occurred as a result of that solicitation or conspiracy.
Those convicted of first-degree murder face life in prison with, or without, parole.
Second Degree Murder
A murder is considered murder in the second degree if it does not qualify as first-degree murder under Maryland Criminal Code§ 2-201(a). The main difference between first-degree and second-degree murder is the lack of premeditation in second-degree murder. For example, a murder committed in a fit of unplanned rage would likely result in a second-degree murder charge, if there was an intent to kill at the moment but a lack of deliberation and premeditation beforehand. Maryland Criminal Code § 2-204 covers second-degree murder and the punishment carries a maximum sentence of 40 years.
Unlike murder crimes, manslaughter lacks malice aforethought from the accused. Manslaughter is a common-law offense defined as the “unlawful and felonious killing of another, without malice aforethought, either express or implied and is either voluntary or involuntary”. There are two important categories in manslaughter cases: voluntary and involuntary.
Voluntary manslaughter is the unlawful killing with factors that mitigate—but do not excuse—the killing. In other words, the killing occurs as a result of the accused being adequately provoked. It is important to note that in the state of Maryland the law explicitly states that discovering one’s spouse committing adultery is not a permissible mitigating factor. Maryland Criminal Code § 2-207(b).
Involuntary manslaughter is when reckless, negligent, or criminal (misdemeanor) action results in the death of another. Involuntary manslaughter, like voluntary manslaughter, lacks malice and premeditation but is distinguished from voluntary manslaughter by a lack of intent.
Maryland has separate laws for involuntary manslaughter involving driving or controlling a vehicle. Vehicular manslaughter is an involuntary manslaughter charge that occurs when a driver causes a fatal motor vehicle accident, whether through reckless driving, distracted driving, or driving under the influence (DUI). Moreover, Maryland law provides for two types of vehicular manslaughter crimes that differentiate by the type of negligence: gross negligence and criminal negligence. Maryland Criminal Code § 2-209 and Maryland Criminal Code § 2-210. It is important to consult with an attorney to understand the differences in these types of negligence.
Voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter are punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison. Penalties for vehicular manslaughter can differ, under Maryland law, depending on the type of negligence associated with the charge.
If you are facing these types of charges, you need a murder/manslaughter criminal defense attorney with the experience, skill, and attention to detail required to mount a thorough and effective defense. If you or a loved one is being charged with any of the aforementioned charges, contact us immediately for your free initial consultation.