What’s The Difference Between First- And Second-Degree Murder?

Murder, or criminal homicide, is defined in Pennsylvania as causing the death of another person under one of these circumstances:

  • You fully intend to kill the other person (first-degree murder).
  • You know your actions may result in the death of another (second-degree murder).
  • Your behavior shows you don’t care if someone dies because of your actions (voluntary manslaughter).
  • You accidentally cause another person to die (involuntary manslaughter).

First-degree murder carries the most serious punishment of any crime — death or life imprisonment with no parole. Its identifying characteristic is intent. It is killing that is premeditated, willful, planned and deliberate.

Second-degree murder usually occurs in the course of committing a felony crime such as a robbery or burglary. Conviction on second-degree murder charges leads to life imprisonment without parole.

Third-degree murder is a catch-all category that includes all other homicides. These crimes are characterized by recklessness or inattention. A crime of passion, in which an argument ends with one person dead, constitutes voluntary manslaughter. You knew that pulling the trigger would have a fatal effect. A killing in which the killer was being careless, as in vehicular homicide, constitutes involuntary homicide.

Your West Chester Criminal Defense Attorneys

It matters hugely what degree of murder you are charged with. The law regarding homicide is often contradictory, drawing on thousands of previous cases, in addition to the law in the books. If you are charged with shoplifting, an ordinary defense attorney will probably do. When so much is at stake, however, you owe it to yourself and to the people who care about you and depend on you to choose the most experienced homicide lawyer you can find.

In West Chester, that’s Bellwoar Kelly, LLP. Call us for a no-charge, no-obligation first discussion of your case and your chances. We are at 610-314-7066. Or you may ask us questions using this email form.