Damico & Stockstill, Attorneys at Law

Understanding the different degrees of murder

Facing a murder charge, no matter which way you look at it, is a serious situation. However, because there are different degrees of murder, it is important to understand what this means in terms of criminal elements and potential consequences. This could also give a defendant a better perspective when it comes to understanding what evidence is used against them, how it was collected and how they could weaken the case against them by having evidence removed.

Second-degree murder is considered to be the middle ground between first-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. A person is accused of second-degree murder when there is an intentional killing that is not premeditated or planned or committed in the heat of passion. Additionally, it is also a killing that is caused by the dangerous conduct and the accused's lack of concern for human life. Both of these elements must be proven to result in a criminal charge and conviction.

On the other hand, first-degree murder is known as a premeditated killing. This type of murder charge has three elements, which includes willfulness, deliberation and premeditation. In some states, malice aforethought is a necessary element. This means that the defendant must have the intention or desire to cause harm to another through an unlawful or wrongful act without justification or excuse.

Finally, voluntary manslaughter relies on the evidence showing that the accused had the intention to kill without the prior intent to kill. This is commonly referred to as killing in the heat of passion. The circumstances surrounding the situation were those that would lead a reasonable person to become so emotionally or mentally disturbed that they would kill.

When an individual is charged with murder, it is not only important to understand what degree of murder they are accused of but also their defense options available to them. This could help a defendant have the charges reduced to a lesser degree or even help with the dismissal of some or all of the charges against them.

Source: Findlaw.com, "Second Degree Murder Overview," accessed Oct. 30, 2017

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