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Murder vs. manslaughter in Tennessee

The killing of another human being has been one of the most serious acts an individual can commit for about as long as societies have been around. In general, cultures have taboos against taking others' lives because, as a practical matter, individuals' security in their lives creates the basis for societal success. In modern terms, most countries and states create a legal framework covering instances of one person killing another. These acts are grouped under the term 'homicide.'

The word homicide itself means only that one person was killed by another; it makes no judgment as to whether the killing was legal or not. Thus, a homicide can be justified. However, when a killing is thought to be illegal, the alleged perpetrator will usually be charged using one of the subcategories of homicide, such as manslaughter or murder.

In Tennessee, as in most states, the major difference between levels of illegal killing comes from the basic amount of culpability created by the intent behind the alleged crime. In this state, both murder and manslaughter prosecutions require that the state prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant had the intent to kill the victim. The major difference is that a manslaughter charge will lie when that intent was caused by some action by the victim that would have provoked a reasonable person to be taken over by an unreasonable passion. Tennessee calls this crime "voluntary manslaughter."

Astute readers may wonder about what constitutes involuntary manslaughter. Well, Tennessee statutes don't specifically label homicides charges as such, rather using the terms "reckless" or "criminally negligent" homicide instead. Murder in the state is further divided into first and second degrees, with the major distinguishing feature being premeditated intent or the death being caused during the commission of another serious felony required for first degree charges.

Apart from differing evidentiary requirements, being convicted of one or the other of these categories of crimes will result in penalties, depending upon the severity of the alleged crime. As such, which criminal homicide charge someone is facing may make a big difference to his or her defense. Tennessee residents should remember that all violent crimes charges are very serious, and that it is in their best interests to force the state to prove its case as well as raising the strongest possible legal defense.

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Mathis, Bates & Klinghard PLLC
412 Franklin Street
Clarksville, TN 37040

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