What’s the difference between 3rd Degree Murder and Involuntary Manslaughter?

PSA to explain the differences between murders and manslaughter.

Murder vs. Manslaughter

While writing this, they just announced a curfew for NYC. This is yet another first for me in a year of firsts.


The subject of George Floyd is one that I write about carefully and respectfully. A man was killed for absolutely no rational reason. That’s all I’ll say on the matter.

That, and I couldn’t watch more than a few seconds of the video as it made me too sick. It literally sickened me.

Instead, I pause my usual talk of nuthin and nonsense to provide you with some legal definitions; none of which should be considered legal advice. OK…

There are four types of murder. The classifications of “degrees” varies across jurisdictions, but generally speaking:

1. First Degree Murder
This is intentional killing with premeditation and usually involves things like poisoning, stalking and trapping, lying in wait, etc.
Example: Someone sits down and decides that he’s gonna kill his old boss on Thursday and he does just that.

2. Second Degree Murder
This can be called, “Intent to inflict serious bodily harm” murder.
Example: I just wanted to break your legs with this here baseball bat but you up and died.

3. Third degree murder
When I took the bar, I thought of this as the “I don’t give a shit,” murder. Its hallmarks are “a wanton indifference to human life,” coupled with, “an unreasonable risk to human life.” The old legal term of this is “depraved-heart” murder, which I always secretly liked as a name because it really captures the essence of what it requires – a depraved heart. Note that some jurisdictions call this second degree murder – so it goes back-and-forth.
Example: Idiot teenagers throwing frozen turkeys off an overpass, killing a woman. This is an insane, but true, example.

4. Felony murder
This is first-degree murder under federal law and varies under local law. I actually explained this a while ago in another entry.
If you’re looking for something to do during lockdown, watch Heat because it’s frequently brought up in law schools as one of the best examples of felony murder.

Involuntary Manslaughter
This is the negligent and unintentional killing of another person.

The *classic* bar examination question – it literally shows up every single year – is a fact pattern where the test-taker has to make a judgement call if something is Third Degree/Depraved-Heart Murder or Involuntary Manslaughter.

(Seriously, every year – if you’re a law student reading this, you gotta know this and be able to distinguish between the two, cold.)

In both third-degree/depraved-heart murder and involuntary manslaughter, there is an unintentional killing.

The distinction is that the former requires recklessness; the latter requires negligence. It’s a question of degrees and needs an arbiter of facts. The difference between recklessness and negligence┬áis a whole other topic.

Feel free to send this to people posting nonsense about murder, versus manslaughter, versus whatnot.


Update: After Chauvin’s verdict, I wrote a follow-up entry: How can Chauvin be guilty of three things?

Podcast Version
Location: in the sun again
Mood: sober and not-too-bad
Music: You’re such a fool, but so am I (Spotify)
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