The Distinction Between First And Second Degree Murder And Manslaughter

First degree murder is murder which is planned and deliberate.

Sentencing for first degree murder is very simple. We do not have capital punishment in Canada so a person who is convicted of first degree murder is sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years. The calculation for those 25 years begins when the person has been arrested and placed in custody, not when they are convicted and found guilty. There is no discretion on the part of the judge; that is the minimum sentence and it is automatic.

It is also important to know that, if you kill a police officer in the course of his duty, it is automatically a first degree charge even if it was not planned and deliberate. If you murder someone in a course of a sexual assault or forced confinement then the charge is also first degree and called constructive first degree murder. You may not have planned it and deliberated about it, but if in the course of a sexual assault, confinement or a kidnapping the victim ends up dying and you are responsible for their death, it is deemed to be first degree murder.

Second degree murder is defined as all other murder other than first degree murder. So, if you do not plan and you do not deliberate about it but you still intend to kill someone, that is second degree murder. The sentencing ranges from life in jail with no parole for 10 years to 25 years until you are eligible for parole. If there are mitigating factors the jury can recommend the minimum.

After the time is served in prison on a sentence for first or second degree murder, you still report to a parole officer for the rest of your life. If you fail any of the requirements that are set out in your conditions of release on parole, there is no hearing and you go right back to jail.

If somebody is committing an illegal act and causes the death of an individual then they are found guilty of manslaughter. Though the person died, there was no intention to cause death. Perhaps, there was only an intention to hurt someone but if a person dies because of that criminal act, the charge is manslaughter. The sentencing options for manslaughter are very complicated because there is no minimum. You can get anything from probation (which is unlikely) to life in jail. Often individuals found guilty of manslaughter will serve medium range penitentiary terms, in the neighbourhood of 7 to 15 years.

If someone is killed as a result of someone’s impaired driving, that is a separate offence. The offence is called “impaired driving causing death.” If, however, the driving is so egregious, as in street racing while impaired, for instance, the charge would be “criminal negligence causing death” and its sentencing will be more severe.

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If you, or someone you care about, is dealing with criminal law issues in the Ottawa, Ontario Region, contact Engel and Associates for a consultation.

This article is taken from a March 25, 2008 interview with Bruce Engel, Criminal Lawyer with Engel and Associates, an Ottawa, Ontario Criminal Law Firm. Note that laws vary from province to province. Please consult with a lawyer in your own area to be sure of the laws and specific issues in your own jurisdiction.