Murder vs Manslaughter: The distinctions and what to do if you’re charged

What is the difference between manslaughter and murder in Australia?
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Are you facing a murder charge? Are you being wrongfully accused of manslaughter? Were the actions you took entirely in self-defence? Russo lawyers can provide you with expert advice, representation, and guidance toward the best outcome.

On the surface, the distinction between “murder” and “manslaughter” may seem minor, but this distinction is important. Whilst both charges are serious, the difference in punishment between the two can be significant. Each charge has a very specific definition which primarily differs based on the degree of intent involved in the circumstances. It is critical to understand how these two charges compare so that an effective legal defence can be mounted in partnership with your lawyer.

What qualifies as murder in Queensland?

In Queensland, murder is defined as the wilful taking of another individual’s life. The key term here is “wilful,” meaning there was an actual and demonstrable intent to kill or cause grievous bodily harm.

Although, as of 7 May 2019, it is possible to face a charge of murder without intent where the death is caused by an act or omission that was done or made with reckless indifference to human life. it will need to be proved that the person charged knew what they were doing would probably result in the decedent’s death. However, ‘reckless indifference’ does not include dangerous driving causing death, which is an entirely separate charge.

What qualifies as manslaughter in Queensland?

Manslaughter refers to when a person causes the death of another individual, but it does not rise to the definition of murder, by virtue of the fact that there was no intent or reckless indifference involved. Where a person has not intended to cause the death, and they did not cause the death with an action they knew would probably lead to death, manslaughter will be the appropriate charge.

Manslaughter should not be misconstrued as accidental death, where not even physical bodily injury was involved. For example, if a death stemmed from a physical assault, but the nature of the assault would not normally cause death, the act would likely qualify as manslaughter rather than murder.

The burden of proof is not as high with manslaughter as it is with murder, but to be convicted, police or a plaintiff’s attorney must establish that a certain action (or lack thereof) was what caused the death and that the act was deliberate and intended to cause grievous bodily harm or was done with reckless indifference.

It is possible for someone to be convicted of manslaughter where there was intent, but murder is deemed an inappropriate charge as the person at the time was not of sound mind. Factors such as the defendant’s age, educational and social background, emotional state, and state of sobriety will be relevant when considering state of mind. In any case, an accused person’s state of mind is something the judge ultimately determines.

What are the punishments for murder and manslaughter?

Given that murder is the most serious of crimes, it carries the harshest of penalties. In Queensland, the maximum is life imprisonment. The minimum can vary depending on the circumstances and the plaintiff’s criminal background. For example, if they were ever tried and convicted of murder previously, the minimum is 30 years in prison. Although, as judges are obligated to issue life sentences for adults guilty of murder, they will spend the rest of their life on parole.

Manslaughter also carries the possibility of a life sentence in Queensland, but it is not mandatory.

What should you do?

If you have been charged with murder or manslaughter, the police will likely seek to speak with you. If you find yourself in this position, you should immediately get in touch with a lawyer that you can trust. You can trust Russo Lawyers. We are a leading criminal defence law firm and are dedicated to providing our clients with advice and service they can trust and rely upon. We’ve been practising criminal law for many years and have helped hundreds of clients obtain the representation they need to comprehensively protect themselves when facing imprisonment. If you feel you are being wrongfully accused, or your actions were purely designed to defend yourself, our team will go to work for you, so the facts of the case are told clearly and concisely. We will do our very best to ensure that justice is served, and you are able to uphold your good name.

Industrial Manslaughter

We also provide legal services to business owners who are accused of industrial manslaughter. Under this offence, criminal prosecution is possible if an employee’s death occurs at their employer’s workplace. Negligence must be established, but with Russo Lawyers, our clients are provided with the representation that may absolve you from culpability. Please contact us today to learn more about our legal services and our dedicated team of professionals.

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