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Making Sense of Murder Versus Manslaughter in Illinois

Posted on in Arrest

Murder versus manslaughterMost states, including Illinois, differentiate the various types of homicide based on the context of the killing. “Homicide” is the blanket category that includes murder and manslaughter. It can be confusing to decipher the differences when these terms seem to be thrown around interchangeably in the media and in daily usage. In legal application, however, there are important distinctions between each of the terms. These seemingly small, nuanced dissimilarities have significant implications on the sentence a person will receive who is ultimately convicted.

First Degree Murder

Essentially, murder occurs when one intentionally kills another human being. In Illinois, murder is further divided into two categories: first degree murder and second degree murder. In order to commit first degree murder under Illinois law, one of three states of mind must be present for a successful conviction:

  • The defendant must have intended to kill or do great bodily harm, or at least know that such acts will cause the death to that individual or another;
  • The defendant must have been aware that his actions created a strong probability of death or great bodily harm to that individual or another; or
  • The defendant must have been attempting or committing a forcible felony other than second degree murder.

The relevant “state of mind” must have existed at the time the defendant killed the other person.

“Intent,” “Knowing,” and “Awareness” 

These three words used in the first two categories of first degree murder basically mean that the killing was not an accident. Additionally, such language means that there were no circumstances present that could lessen the murder charge to second degree murder or manslaughter.

Felony Murder 

The third category of first degree murder, which describes a murder occurring while attempting or committing a forcible felony, is known as “felony murder.” Felony murder will be first degree murder in Illinois when a victim is killed by the defendant while the defendant is committing a felony at the time of the killing. Forcible felonies usually include burglary, arson, rape, robbery, or kidnapping. Thus, if someone dies as a result of the commission of such a crime, the defendant will likely be charged with felony murder.

Aggravating Factors 

Even though first degree murder is considered the most serious homicide offense in Illinois, the presence of “aggravating factors” can increase the sentence of someone found guilty of first degree murder. Some of these factors include:

  • Murder of a police officer or firefighter killed while working in his official capacity;
  • Murder of a correctional officer;
  • Murder occurring during hijacking of a vehicle in interstate transportation;
  • The murder was “for hire” (i.e. hit man);
  • The victim of the murder was under twelve years old; or
  • If felony murder, the murder was an “inherently violent crime.”

Second Degree Murder: Mitigating Factors

Even if the offense charged is considered first degree murder, the crime can nonetheless be reduced to second degree murder if certain “mitigating” factors are present. These factors can include:

  • Murder due to a sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation;
  • Murder where the defendant believes that circumstances existed that would justify the killing; and
  • Serious provocation that creates intense passion in the defendant.

Manslaughter and Reckless Homicide 

Many states further break down manslaughter into two categories: voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary manslaughter has been abandoned by Illinois courts (with the exception of voluntary manslaughter of an unborn child), and is categorized instead under second degree murder. Involuntary manslaughter in Illinois occurs when a defendant causes an unintentional killing. This is called “reckless homicide” in Illinois when the cause of death is from operating a motor vehicle, often known as “vehicular homicide” in other jurisdictions. There are also mitigating and aggravating factors present with manslaughter, but the most important takeaway is that manslaughter is generally considered an accident due to the defendant’s recklessness whereas murder is based on an intentional killing.

We Can Help 

If you have been charged with a homicide crime in Illinois, it is critical to understand your rights. If your charge can be lessened from first degree murder to second degree murder, or even murder to manslaughter, the implications may be significant. In order to navigate a complicated area of the law, it is crucial to obtain the representation of experienced DuPage County violent crime defense attorneys. At Kathryn L. Harry & Associates, P.C., we are dedicated to defending you from a criminal conviction. If you or anyone you know has been charged with a violent crime in Dupage, Cook, Will, Kane, or surrounding counties, we are here to help. Even if you simply seek more information about our legal services, please contact us at 630-472-9700 and let us help you with your criminal convictions.

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