Should Johnny and Ponyboy be charged with murder or manslaughter? Why?
Johnny should probably be charged with involuntary manslaughter given the fact that he had no intention of killing Bob Sheldon. The difference between murder and manslaughter concerns intent and whether or not the killing was premeditated or accidental. Manslaughter is unintentional, and Johnny did not intend to kill Bob Sheldon when he stabbed him. Johnny recognized that his friend was dying and stabbed Bob in order to stop him from holding Ponyboy underwater. Despite Johnny being charged with manslaughter, he would probably avoid the charge by pleading self-defense. Bob Sheldon and his Soc friends initiated the altercation, and Bob was attempting to drown Ponyboy, which is the reason Johnny intervened. In the novel, Johnny breaks his back while attempting to save children in a burning church and does not survive his injuries, which is why he does not go on trial.
They might have been charged with manslaughter or second degree murder but would plead innocent with a reason of self-defense. The boys were waylaid by the Soc who have been drinking. He was the one who beat Johnny so badly before that Johnny's emotional state was damaged. The Soc was holding Ponyboy underwater in the fountain, nearly drowning him. Johnny's action of stabbing the boy saved Ponyboy's life. A lawyer with any sense would plead self-defense or even insanity in Johnny's case. A prosecutor might claim that Johnny killed him as a payback for the previous beating. I believe that with testimony from Cherry and Darry, that line of argument wouldn't hold up.
Johnny and Ponyboy should not be charged with murder or manslaughter, however, given their social status and economic situations, they probably would have. I agree that any decent lawyer would have claimed self-defense, if the girls had the courage to testify in court, this defense would have held. I often wonder, given the place and time, if any lawyer would have done so and if the girls would have willingly stood up for them. Money and social status are often strong elements that impact legal outcomes for this setting.
Johnny and Ponyboy shouldn't be charged for either. They killed Bob due to self-defense in the park. The police or the judge would probably would have charged them due to the fact that they are Greasers and just killed a Socs.