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Tennessee General Law Blog

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How Tennessee Defines the Difference Between Manslaughter and Murder

Criminal Intent and Tennessee’s Murder Laws

Killing another person is a crime in Tennessee. However, the law distinguishes between different types of killing, with murder being the most serious and manslaughter being a lesser offense. However, a conviction for murder or manslaughter could lead to decades or more behind bars, so meeting with a Manchester criminal defense attorney is vital to protecting your rights.

First-Degree Murder

Tennessee Code § 39-13-202 defines first-degree murder, and there are three situations in which a person can be convicted:

In most cases, a murder charge will be brought for an intentional, premeditated killing. The term “premeditated” simply means that the defendant must have formed a definite intent to kill based on reflection and judgment before the act. There is no amount of reflection required.

A killing that results from the commission of a felony can also qualify as murder, even when the defendant did not have a definite intent for someone to die. In this situation, it is enough that they had the intent to commit the felony—like burglary or rape—and a death resulted.

Murder is the most serious offense in Tennessee, and a convicted defendant can face death or life in prison with or without parole.

Second-Degree Murder

The criminal code also defines second-degree murder as:

The key difference with second-degree murder is the mental state. A defendant does not intend after reflection to kill the victim. However, he might know that his conduct very well could have that effect. For example, a defendant might beat a person to death and should know that several blows to the head could result in death, even if this is not the intended result.

Second degree murder is a Class A felony and carries a punishment of 15 to 60 years, along with a fine.

Voluntary Manslaughter

Tennessee Code § 39-13-211 defines voluntary manslaughter as the intentional or knowing killing of a person in a state of passion due to adequate provocation. The provocation must be such that it would lead a reasonable person to act in an irrational manner.

Because the person kills in a heat of passion, the law views them as less culpable than someone who commits first- or second-degree murder. Consequently, voluntary manslaughter is a Class C Felony, and a person faces three to 20 years in prison if convicted, along with a fine.

Reckless Homicide

Tennessee Code § 39-13-215 also makes reckless homicide a crime. Reckless homicide occurs whenever a person recklessly kills someone else. For example, a motorist might pull into a crowd of people, killing one of them. They had no intent to kill, but their conduct was very dangerous—reckless, in a word. Reckless homicide is a Class D felony and carries a punishment of two to 12 years and a fine.

If you have been implicated in the death of another person, please contact a Manchester criminal defense attorney at The Law Offices of Burch, Morrison, & Stewart today for help. We are available 24/7.

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