Criminal homicide in the state of Pennsylvania is defined as the death of another human being by unlawful means. Criminal homicide is categorized under three kinds of murder and three kinds of manslaughter in Pennsylvania. The difference between manslaughter and murder is dependent on whether malice was deemed to be a part of the fatal act by the defendant that led to the other party's death.
In order to prove malice in a first-degree murder case, Pennsylvania prosecutors must prove that the harmful act was committed with the actual intention to commit an unlawful act and/or cause a harmful result. Malice could be either express or implied. When it comes to first-degree murder charges, prosecutors usually have to prove that there was express malice -- that is, the violent act was intentional against the victim.
In first-degree murder cases, prosecutors also have to prove that the defendant specifically wanted to kill the deceased person. They do this by highlighting the use of deadly weapons, the defendant's specific actions and considering other facts surrounding the death.
Ultimately, a first-degree murder trial is all about the prosecution's attempt to prove that the deadly act was committed by the defendant, it was premeditated and unlawful, and it resulted in the death of another person. The premeditated planning and deliberate nature of first-degree murder are its primary differences from second-degree murder, which generally happens in the moment during a sudden fight or sudden violent reaction.
The penalties associated with first-degree murder allow for life in prison or the death penalty. Therefore, defendants accused of this crime may want to consider using an experienced criminal defense attorney to help represent them against the charges.
Source: FindLaw, "Pennsylvania First Degree Murder Laws," accessed June 09, 2016