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Manslaughter vs. Murder Charges

 Posted on November 29, 2023 in Criminal Defense

IL defense lawyerA person’s intent behind a killing can make the difference between life in prison and a shorter sentence. While first-degree murder carries a prison sentence of twenty years to life in prison, manslaughter normally will require the offender to spend less than 15 years in jail.

Below, we provide an overview of manslaughter and murder charges and how intent can determine the severity of your punishment. If you are facing charges, speak with our Chicago criminal defense lawyer directly.

First-Degree Murder

In Illinois, first-degree murder requires the prosecutor to prove one of the following three elements at trial:

  • The defendant had an intention to kill or cause great bodily harm.
  • The defendant knew that it was highly likely that his or her actions would cause death or great bodily harm to another person.
  • The defendant killed the victim while committing another forcible felony other than second-degree murder (known as “felony murder”).

First-degree murder is a Class X felony, the most severe type of felony in Illinois. If you are convicted of first-degree murder, you will likely be sentenced to anywhere from 20-60 years in prison, with the potential for a life sentence.

Second-Degree Murder

Second-degree murder is a lesser offense than first-degree murder. A person will be convicted of second-degree murder if he or she commits first-degree murder, but the following mitigating factors are present:

  • The defendant acted in the “heat of passion” due to provocation by the victim or another person whom the defendant intended to kill, but due to negligence or by accident, the defendant killed the victim instead. 
  • The defendant believed that the killing was justified or that he or she would be acquitted, but this belief was unreasonable.

Second-degree murder is a Class 1 felony, the second-most severe type of felony in Illinois. If you are convicted of second-degree murder, you will spend four to 20 years in jail.


Illinois recognizes two categories of manslaughter: voluntary and involuntary:

  • Voluntary manslaughter: Killing someone in the “heat of passion,” but no premeditation is involved. In Illinois, it only applies to the killing of an unborn child. Considered a Class 1 felony, this crime is punishable by four to 15 years in prison.
  • Involuntary manslaughter and reckless homicide: Unintentionally killing another person without legal justification, either by recklessness or criminal negligence. The acts leading to the harm may be lawful or unlawful. If the cause of death was caused by driving a motor vehicle, snowmobile, ATV, or watercraft, you will be charged with reckless homicide. A Class 3 felony, you may be facing two to five years in prison.

Mens Rea

A homicide is considered murder if you had the intent to kill. In the law, intent is known as mens rea, which translates to “guilty mind.” The defendant’s state of mind will make the difference between being charged with murder or manslaughter.

The prosecution is required to prove your state of mind to convict you. The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime with the state of mind required under the law. 

Depending on the facts surrounding the killing, a Cook County homicide defense attorney may be able to get your charges reduced or dismissed. 

A Chicago, IL, Homicide Defense Attorney Defending Your Rights

Everybody deserves their day in court. Dedicated representation is essential, and an accomplished defense attorney can make all the difference. If you are facing homicide charges, it is time you speak with a Cook County, IL, criminal defense attorney. Contact the Law Offices of James F. DiQuattro today online or by calling 312-627-9482 to schedule your free consultation. 

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