What Is the Difference Between Manslaughter and Murder in NC?

By Joel Hancock

Understanding the differences among various charges is extremely important. Two terms that are often mentioned but not always fully differentiated are “manslaughter” and “murder.” In North Carolina, as in many other states, these two charges have distinct definitions, legal implications, and consequences. Here are the key differences between manslaughter and murder in North Carolina.

Defining the Terms


Manslaughter is a lesser homicide charge compared to murder. In North Carolina, manslaughter is typically divided into two categories:

  • Voluntary Manslaughter – This occurs when an individual intentionally kills another person but does so in the heat of passion or under the influence of strong emotions. It’s often the result of a sudden, intense provocation that causes the perpetrator to lose control. An example of this may be a husband who walks in on his wife having an affair and strangles the other man. 
  • Involuntary Manslaughter – Involuntary manslaughter involves unintentional killing but occurs due to reckless or negligent behavior. It’s not the result of a deliberate intention to harm or kill someone. An example of this may be a drunk driver who gets into an accident and kills another driver.


Murder, on the other hand, is a more serious offense. In North Carolina, it is generally classified into two degrees:

  • First-Degree Murder – This is the most serious homicide charge. It involves the intentional, premeditated killing of another person. In certain cases, it can also include murder committed during the commission of other serious crimes, like armed robbery or rape.
  • Second-Degree Murder – This is a less severe charge, but it still involves intentional killing without premeditation. It differs from first-degree murder in that it lacks the element of planned, deliberate intent.

Differences in Penalties

The differences between manslaughter and murder become most apparent when considering the penalties:

  • Manslaughter – In North Carolina, voluntary manslaughter is a Class D felony, while involuntary manslaughter is typically a Class F felony. Penalties may include imprisonment, fines, probation, or other sentences, depending on facts of the case.
  • Murder – First-degree murder is a Class A felony, and the penalty in North Carolina can be life imprisonment or even the death penalty. Second-degree murder is generally a Class B1 felony, carrying significant prison time.

Whether you have been charged with manslaughter or murder, they are very serious charges that should be acted on immediately. A qualified North Carolina criminal defense attorney can provide the necessary guidance and representation to navigate these intricate legal distinctions and work toward the best possible outcome.

Hancock Law Firm, PLLC Helps Those in North Carolina Who Have Been Charged with a Crime

If you have been charged with a crime, you may have options. You have the right to defend yourself. Your best bet of doing so successfully is with the help of a knowledgeable and experienced North Carolina criminal defense attorney who understands what you are up against and will fight on your behalf. However, time is of the essence, which is why it’s best to contact a qualified attorney as soon as possible. 

At Hancock Law Firm, PLLC, we fully understand what is at stake and will do everything that we can to help you fight this charge. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, contact us today!

About the Author
Joel Hancock is a native of Carteret County, NC. He devotes 100% of his practice to defending those accused of traffic infractions, DWI, misdemeanors, and felonies in Carteret County, NC.