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A murder – or manslaughter – charge is the most serious charge in Canada’s Criminal Code. Given the seriousness of the charge, it is wise to engage the expertise of a criminal defence lawyer. Dealing with a murder charge can also be intimidating and frightening. Tom Doust, Vancouver Criminal Lawyer, can provide you with the support you need during such a difficult time.


Murder is the act of killing a person. Under the Criminal Code, murder is when an offender:

causes the death of another,
causes bodily harm knowing that it will likely lead to death,
intends to cause death or injury to one person that results in the death of another, or
causes the death of someone while committing another offence.
Murder can be either first-degree or second-degree.

First-degree murder

With first-degree murder, the act is planned and deliberate. The prosecution must prove both aspects beyond a reasonable doubt to charge someone with first-degree murder. Some murders are automatically categorized as first-degree, even if they were not intentional. Examples include:

  • murders of on-duty police officers or correctional services officers,
  • murders that happen while committing another offence, such as aggravated sexual assault or kidnapping.

Penalty for first-degree murder

In Canada, this murder charge carries an automatic life sentence. Offenders have a chance of parole after serving 25 years of their term.

Second-degree murder

A murder is second-degree when the act does not meet the definition of first-degree murder. Thus, second-degree charges are leveled when there was no prior planning, and the killing did not occur while the perpetrator was committing another offence.

Penalty for second-degree murder

Second-degree murder charges carry a penalty of life imprisonment. Offenders may be eligible for parole after serving 10 to 25 years of their sentence. However, if it is a second offence, a minimum of 25 years passes before eligibility for parole.


Manslaughter is the term used to describe cases where a death happened in the heat of the moment. In other words, the action was not planned or deliberate, so there was no intention to cause death. In cases where a person’s mental faculties have been affected by alcohol or other substances, murder charges may be reduced to manslaughter. There are two broad categories of manslaughter; unlawful act and criminal negligence.

Unlawful act

In this situation, death occurs because the offender committed an act that is against the law. In an unlawful act, causing death is not the primary goal.

Criminal negligence

Deaths resulting from a failure to act or an action demonstrating a reckless disregard for life fall under criminal negligence. In most cases of criminal negligence, a person with a duty to act, imposed by law, failed to do so – causing the death of another.

Penalty for manslaughter

Unlike murder, manslaughter does not carry an automatic penalty of life in prison. However, judges may hand down sentences of life imprisonment at their discretion. Most sentences fall between four and 15 years in prison. If a firearm was involved, a minimum of four years is required. There are no minimum years served to qualify for parole.

Are you looking for a Vancouver criminal lawyer?

A conviction of murder or manslaughter carries serious consequences. Such charges require the immediate attention of an experienced lawyer like Tom Doust. He will examine all the evidence in your case and build a defence that will give you the best chance of success. He will be with you at every step, from interrogation to trial.

If you are someone you know has been arrested for murder or manslaughter, Tom Doust can help. Call our office at (604) 618-7994 or complete our contact form for a free consultation. We are available 24hrs.

If you are facing criminal charges, you need to know all of your options. Contact trial lawyer Tom Doust now to set up a free consultation to discuss the potential defences to your case.