The Maine Defender Blog

difference between murder and manslaughter in Maine

What Is The Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter?

I. Culpable State of Mind For Murder

Under Maine law, we do not have different “degrees” of murder or manslaughter. The difference is based solely upon the defendant’s alleged culpable state of mind (mens rea) while causing the death of another. In order to obtain a conviction for murder, the state must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant acted intentionally or knowingly while causing the death of another person.

As in any criminal case, in a murder case, the state must prove each element of the charge, which it has levied against the defendant by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The elements are: That the victim is deceased, that the defendant caused (a subject for another day) the victim’s death AND that the defendant caused that death intentionally or knowingly.

Let us assume, for purposes of this blog, that the state easily proves the first two elements above-listed beyond a reasonable doubt (victim is dead and defendant caused that death). The state must also prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant acted intentionally or knowingly while causing the victim’s death. If the state fails to prove that final element, beyond a reasonable doubt, the verdict is not guilty of murder.

What does intentionally mean? What does knowingly mean? Under Maine law, a person acts intentionally when it is his “conscious object” to cause a certain result (the victim’s death in a murder case). A person acts knowingly when he is “practically certain” that his conduct will cause a certain result (the victim’s death in a murder case).

In order to obtain a murder conviction, the state must prove each and every element beyond a reasonable doubt. Failure to prove any one of these elements requires a verdict of not guilty on a murder charge.

II. Culpable State of Mind for Manslaughter

Unlike murder, in order for the state to obtain a conviction for manslaughter, the element of the defendant’s “culpable state of mind” is different. While the state must still prove the first two elements akin to a murder charge: that the victim is dead and that the defendant caused that death, the mens rea (culpable state of mind) element is different.

In a manslaughter case, the state must prove that the defendant acted criminally recklessly or with CRIMINAL, not civil, negligence. Under Maine law, a person acts with criminal recklessness, if he “consciously disregards a risk” that his conduct will cause a certain result (in a manslaughter case, the result is death). A person acts with criminal negligence if he “fails to be aware” that his conduct may cause a certain result (death in a manslaughter case). AND, that his failure to be aware of that risk must be a GROSS deviation from what a reasonable person would observe when considered under ALL of the attendant circumstances. A gross deviation means a huge deviation from what a reasonable person would observe and adhere to under all of the attendant circumstances. In other words, criminal negligence is a far different standard than that of ordinary civil negligence .

The bottom line is that, in order to obtain a conviction for either murder or manslaughter, as in any criminal case, the state must prove each element of the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The difference between murder and manslaughter is one element: the accused’s state of mind (mens rea) while causing the victim’s death.

I will address the issue of causation in my next blog. My partner, Sarah Churchill, and I have extensive experience in defending murder and manslaughter cases as well as other major felonies.

If you have been charged with OUI or any other type of criminal charge, give us a call at 207-879-3830 for a free consultation. We are located at 1250, Forest Avenue, Portland, Maine 04103. Check us out online at www.nicholschurchill.com.


Disclaimer: This article is intended to provide general, not specific, information about Maine law. The publication of this article does not constitute an attorney-client relationship between the author(s) and the reader(s).