Difference Between Murder & Culpable Homicide

By Gilbert Manda ; Updated June 19, 2017
Chalk outline at a crime scene

The killing of someone is called homicide. Some homicides may be planned while others are accidental. The loss of life is equal in both circumstances, but the killer's criminal intent and the factors involved are used to classify the homicide either as murder or homicide. To deter homicide, society has decided to sanction the harshest punishment to criminals that commit murder in the form of long prison sentences or death.

Murder

Murder is a homicide in which a person takes another life with intent, or depraved indifference to human life. In the U.S. law, the definition includes the killing of someone with "malice aforethought." It means the killer deliberated and planned to go and take the victim's life. The definition also includes the killing that occurs during the commission of another crime such as arson or robbery. Such killing is called first degree murder. Murder without deliberation or premeditation is called second degree murder.

Culpable Homicide

The term culpable homicide is used in Scottish law and among a commonwealth of nations where the English common law system of justice is administered. Such countries include Canada, India, Pakistan, Scotland, Singapore and South Africa. Culpable homicide is generally the act of causing death without criminal intent. It is classified in two categories: involuntary and voluntary. More precisely, it is used to define the criminal intent or "mens rea" of a killing. "Mens rea" is a Latin term which translates into "guilty to mind." This is one of the basic principles in criminal law. It derives from a Latin phrase "actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea," meaning the act does not make a person guilty unless the mind is also guilty. In short, while murder is premeditated, culpable homicide is not planned.

Manslaughter

The unlawful taking of another life under circumstances that makes the criminal less culpable than someone who commits murder is called manslaughter in United States law. Manslaughter is the equivalent of culpable homicide in which the accused receives a lesser punishment if convicted than if he is found guilty of murder. In U.S. law, manslaughter is divided into voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary manslaughter and murder are similar, what makes the former a lesser crime than the latter is the circumstances that lead to the killing. It means there was adequate provocation by the victim that led to the killing. Such killings usually occur in the heat of passion. Involuntary manslaughter is the killing of someone unintentionally. Both of these crimes amount to culpable murder in Scottish law.

Types of Manslaughter and Culpable Homicides

In U.S. law, manslaughter is divided into unlawful acts of manslaughter and criminal negligence. Criminal negligent manslaughter is the unintentional killing of someone because of negligence or recklessness. This is when a person fails to perform a duty, leading to death. A doctor who overdoses a patient with drugs is culpable of involuntary manslaughter if a patient dies. There is also what is called vehicular manslaughter in U.S. law. This is the unintentional of killing another due to negligence when driving. In countries that follow the Scottish law, all these manslaughter crimes are categorized under culpable homicide. In South Africa, culpable homicide is described as "the unlawful negligent killing of a human being."

About the Author

Gilbert Manda has written financial news since 2000. He holds a professional diploma from the London School of Journalism, a Bachelor of Science in global business and public policy from the University of Maryland and a Master of Arts in international journalism from City University London.