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The Difference Between Manslaughter and Murder


Manslaughter and murder are both homicides, crimes that involve the unlawful taking of another person’s life. In North Dakota, the difference between the two crimes comes down to whether a person intended to kill the victim and the severity of the punishment.

All states distinguish crimes based on their severity and recognize that not every homicide deserves the same punishment. North Dakota is no different.

North Dakota recognizes three types of homicide: murder, manslaughter, and negligent homicide.

Murder vs. Manslaughter

Murder is the most severe type of homicide a person can be charged with. Murder is defined as intentionally or knowingly causing the death of another human being or causing the death of another person under circumstances that manifest an extreme indifference to the value of human life.

In North Dakota, murder is classified as a Class AA felony, which is the most severe type of crime a person can face. A Class AA felony is punishable by life in prison without the possibility of parole.

North Dakota does not recognize what common law calls “voluntary manslaughter.”  North Dakota does, however, recognize a lower category of murder where the homicide is committed by a person who is suffering “under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance for which there is reasonable excuse.”  An example of this type of murder would be a situation where a spouse catches the other engaged in an affair and immediately reacts violently.  This type of murder is a class A felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, a fine of up to $20,000, or both.  The classic example of this type of murder would be where a spouse catches the other engaged in an affair and immediately reacts, killing the cheating spouse or the spouse’s lover. 

Manslaughter is the crime of recklessly causing the death of another human being. It is a Class B felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $20,000, or both. An example of manslaughter would be shooting a gun up into the air at a party where the bullet strikes and kills a partygoer.  In that situation, the gun-toting shooter consciously and unjustifiably disregarded the risk that the bullet could come back down and hurt or kill someone. 

The main difference between murder and manslaughter, aside from the severity of the punishment, is that manslaughter involves the taking of someone else’s life recklessly without circumstances that manifest an extreme indifference to the value of human life.    

North Dakota also recognizes the crime of negligent homicide, which occurs when someone’s negligence causes the death of another person. An example of negligent homicide is a parent who accidentally kills a child by leaving the child unattended in a hot car.

Negligent homicide is a Class C felony and is punishable by up to 5 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.  

Homicide Conviction Carries Severe Penalties

Murder, manslaughter, and negligent homicide are some of the most serious crimes a person can be accused of committing. The penalties for conviction are severe.

If you or someone you love has been charged with murder, manslaughter, or negligent homicide, you face a threat to your freedom and cannot settle for anything less than the most experienced and well-respected legal counsel. 

At Fremstad Law, criminal defense attorney Nick Thornton passionately represents each and every one of his clients and is dedicated to doing the work that is required to defend someone who faces serious criminal charges.

Nick recognizes and understands the stress and fear that come from being charged with such a serious crime and tries to reduce his client’s fear as much as possible. Nick begins a consultation with a criminal defense client by gathering information about the charges. He answers questions about the legal process generally, and homicide charges specifically. Nick recognizes the need to treat his clients as people first and is committed to building a relationship with his clients and their families.

When you hire Nick Thornton and Fremstad Law, our lawyers will work hard to move your case forward in the best way possible. When it comes to a murder, manslaughter, or negligent homicide charge, that means leaving no stone unturned, investigating every piece of evidence, and filing motions to suppress evidence, motions to dismiss, and zealously representing his clients at trial, in post-conviction proceedings, and on appeal.   

Nick fights to protect his clients’ rights to due process, making sure that the law is followed and that every client is afforded the presumption of innocence and is not convicted until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

If you or someone you love is facing charges of murder, manslaughter, or negligent homicide, nothing short of the most aggressive legal representation will do. Nick Thornton and the lawyers at Fremstad Law will interview witnesses, visit the scene of the crime, identify holes in the prosecution’s theory of the case, and work with experts and private investigators to ensure that no stone is left unturned.

Our lawyers have the experience and expertise needed to defend people facing the most serious criminal charges. We know how the prosecution prepares a case, and we work hard to protect our clients and their rights.

If you are facing charges of murder, manslaughter, or negligent homicide, Fremstad Law should be your first call.

Based in Fargo, we defend people throughout North Dakota and Minnesota.


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