Homicide, Murder and Manslaughter in Louisiana
What is the difference between first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and manslaughter?
In the movies, or on TV, you frequently hear the term “premeditated murder.” In Louisiana, there is no such thing. In Louisiana, there are three main categories of homicide, first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and manslaughter. What most people normally think of as a premeditated murder would be classified in Louisiana as second-degree murder. Second-degree murder is the killing of a human being when the offender has the specific intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm. So, when most people think of a murder, they are thinking of second-degree murder.
First-degree murder is simply a special category of murder which is a second-degree murder with some particular aggravating circumstance that makes it especially bad, thus warranting the possibility of the death penalty. For instance, a first-degree murder would include:
- A murder where the offender was also engaged in a kidnapping, escape, arson, rape, burglary, robbery, terrorism, or cruelty to juveniles
- A murder where the victim was a policeman or fireman in the lawful performance of his duties
- A murder where more than one person was killed
- A murder where the offender has received anything of value for the killing
- A murder where the victim is under 12 or over 65
- A murder while engaged in the distribution or purchase of illegal drugs
- A murder which is committed in violation of a restraining order prohibiting contact between the offender and the victim
- A murder where the victim is a witness to a crime and the murder is committed to prevent the witness from testifying or for the purpose of seeking retribution or revenge
All of these things would be considered first-degree murder. They are all ordinary second-degree murders, but they include some aggravating factor that makes them particularly heinous or egregious in the eyes of the law.
What is manslaughter in Louisiana
Going in the other direction, manslaughter is a murder committed under certain mitigating circumstances. Manslaughter is a homicide which would ordinarily be second-degree murder, except that it was committed in sudden passion or heat of blood immediately caused by provocation sufficient to deprive an average person of his self-control or cool reflection. A classic example of what might arguably be manslaughter is a man who comes home from hunting only to catch his wife and his best friend in bed together. With gun in hand, he loads it and kills them both. Another example might be where a law-abiding citizen is attacked, but then the attacker withdraws from the conflict. But in retaliation for the attack, the citizen chases down the former attacker and kills him. Such a killing is not justified in self-defense because the attacker had withdrawn from the attack, but the original attack might be considered provocation sufficient to deprive an average person of his self-control and cool reflection.
Contact experienced Louisiana criminal attorney James Kirk Piccione
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