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In a court of law, murder requires an unlawful action that was intentional and resulted in the death of a person. Murder charges can be placed in the killing was intentional and premeditated or unintentional and not premeditated. Homicide laws make a clear distinction and provide different degrees of punishments between premeditated and unpremeditated actions that result in the death of another person. The specific details of the killing allow the judge to charge an individual with varying ‘degrees of murder’ and if the death resulted from self-defense, the killing will be acknowledged as lawful. For example, if a robber enters your home, he is illegally on your property and death that results if the homeowner decides to take action, will not be considered illegal in most states. In the earlier case, deaths that result from ‘malice’ or premeditated action will be charged with either first or second-degree murder in 47 states. The other three states add an additional 3rd-degree murder and it describes different punishments that are lesser than the first two.

In most states, first-degree murders require that the killing was intentional, malicious, and/or premeditated. In addition, the 47 states with the exception of Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Florida, ‘felony murders’ or murders that resulted from a felony crime, are considered first-degree murders. In the state of Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Florida, ‘felony murders’ are charged with third-degree murders that can hold a sentence of up to 40 years. First-degree murders can result in the death penalty which is why some states make a separate category ‘third degree’ to charge deaths that were not necessarily intentional. 

Murder is a crime that falls under the homicide laws that address the actions of an individual when his or her actions result in a death. The different courts will either rule a first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and a voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. The first two charges hold the highest legal repercussions while voluntary and involuntary manslaughter are less impactful. The court may also rule that the homicide was justifiable in which case the court has decided that the actions that led to a death were out of self-defense.

The distinct laws that guide different courts across the United States, requires the attention of a specialized local attorney. Every state defines murder in their own terms and provides different punishments when presented with the various factors of a case. Courts can punish an individual with a lifetime in prison while in other cases, it may provide parole options for individuals that committed a second or third-degree murder.

Knowing the specific details of the laws that guide murder may be the difference between receiving a lifetime in prison or a lesser punishment. Individuals who are entering a courtroom will need to understand that the judge is there to provide a verdict based on the evidence and facts of each side. To have a fair verdict, individuals facing murder charges, are encouraged to speak with a local state attorney that is capable of representing their case in a court of law. If you are in the California area, we invite you to contact Leah Legal at 818-484-1100. We are ready to provide a clear assessment of your case, guidance, and representation in a United States courtroom.

Key Terms in Murder Cases

Whether you are looking to learn more about the murder laws in the United States or if you are involved in a murder case, you will want to have a clear understanding of the common terminology that accompanies most cases. While the following will provide an understanding of the common terms, it is up to a lawyer to explain how these terms apply to your case. To have a clear understanding of your case, you are encouraged to speak with a state attorney today. The first three terms are highly related to first and second-degree murder cases.

What is intent?

The intent is what differentiates a murder from a manslaughter. Intentional murder entails that the perpetrator has knowingly or purposely killed an individual out of their own recklessness. In some courts, intentional murder is also a murder that occurs as a result of irresponsible or reckless behavior. Intentional murders will usually be treated with first-degree murder charges. Individuals who knowingly and purposely kill another person will be charged with the highest degree of punishments.

What is “malice”?

Malice is when an individual wants the death of another person and therefore takes actions that are considered implied or expressed. Expressed malice is when that actions that lead to a death were done so with a purpose; of course, the purpose being the death of another individual. Implied malice is when the death results from reckless and conscious actions. Intending to cause ‘bodily harm’ to another individual is known as implied malice.

Ex: If Tom bats someone on the head just for the sake of murdering someone, the court will see his actions as intentional. Tom’s actions were out of malice and can be charged with serious penalties if the victim dies or is hospitalized.

What is premeditated murder?

Premeditated murder is a murder that happens after an individual has planned an attack on someone to end their life. For a premeditated murder charge, the accusing party will need to prove that the murder was planned out for a certain amount of time. The time between the planning and the killing can be the difference between minutes to days and months. In the event that an individual “second guesses” and acts outside of the heat of the moment, the killing will be considered to be premeditated. Premeditated murders require planning and conscious thinking. Premeditated murder cases are intentional and will, therefore, be treated with first degree charges.

For example, if Tom finds his wife Toodles, fiddling in bed with another man, he may decide to take action or to file a divorce. If divorce is not an option for Tom and he decides to take action while in the presence of Toodles and the other man, Tom may be charged with ‘voluntary manslaughter’ for acting out of rage. In another instance, if Tom leaves the house in a fury and returns with a shotgun and kills the man that slept with his wife, he will be charged with a first-degree murder. In the latter case, Tom premeditated his actions and knowingly chased a victim after he caught his wife in bed. The difference between premeditated murder and manslaughter is that the first requires that the murderer takes place after a conscious decision. The latter is a result of engaging in the heat of the moment.

What is felony murder?

A felony murder is charged when an individual commits a felony such as burning a building, and his or her actions result in the death of a bystander. The individual that violate the law and whose actions result in death may be charged with a first-degree murder. In most states, a felony murder can be charged with a lifetime in prison or the death penalty. However, the case results in lesser punishments for individuals who indirectly kill an individual because of his or her actions. In states like Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Florida, felony murders are treated as a third-degree offense and do not hold the option for the death penalty or for a lifetime in prison. In any case, the judge will take into account the specific details in each account and will determine the appropriate measures. Individuals charged with a felony murder are looking at up to 40 years to a lifetime in prison depending on the gravity of the situation.

Degrees of Murder

When a judge decides between first and second-degree murder or between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter (all of which hold different degrees of punishments), the judge will consider all the factors that belong to the situation. 1) A judge will consider the actions of the individual: was the individual acting recklessly? Was the individual acting with intent? Was the act premeditated? Was the individual acting with a disregard for life? 2) the number of victims involves. 3) other crimes that occurred (if any). The following section will discuss the differences between the varying degrees of murder charges.  

First-degree murder

A judge may rule the first-degree murder if the killing of another person was the result of an intentional premeditated plan. In addition, a judge will rule a first-degree murder charge if the death of another person was the result of a felony as with a felony murder.

Ex: Johnny goes to a grocery store and upon taking the money from the register, he shoots the clerk. Johnny will be charged with first-degree murder for intentionally killing another individual. More so, Johnny will face additional charges for burglary.

Ex: Johnny gets into a heated argument with his coworker. Upon leaving work, Johnny follows his coworker home and shoots him when he gets the chance. Johnny has had enough time to think clearly from the heated argument and has chosen or premeditated a plan to kill his coworker. Johnny will be charged with first-degree murder.

Second-degree murder

Individuals may be charged with a second-degree murder if their actions were not premeditated or if their reckless behavior resulted in a death. Individuals who are charged with a second-degree murder committed a killing that was unplanned. The law explains that a killing can be intentional and unplanned if it occurred while in the heat of the moment. In addition, a judge can order a second-degree murder instead of a first-degree murder charge for certain deaths that result from reckless activities. 

Ex: Johnny is in a dispute with his neighbor over an overarching tree. Johnny addresses the situation with his neighbor one day and during the process, they begin to fight. Johnny ends up killing his neighbor. Johnny would more than likely be charged with second-degree murder for killing his neighbor in consideration of the bad blood that existed between them.

Voluntary and Involuntary Manslaughter

Voluntary Manslaughter

Voluntary manslaughter can be ruled when an individual commits a crime of passion that was caused by his or her emotional or mental state. Killings that are not premeditated and hold no malice are treated with lesser punishments given that there was no initial intent for a ‘reasonable’ person to engage in a murder. Voluntary manslaughter can include deaths that arise from bar fights or from deaths that arise from infidelity.

Ex: Johnny is drinking at a bar with a couple of coworkers. Johnny has one too many beers and starts fighting with his buddies who are also drunk. Johnny pulls out a knife and kills his coworker over a football dispute. Johnny would be charged with second-degree murder because his actions were not premeditated. In some courts, Johnny would be punished with manslaughter which holds a lighter punishment.

Involuntary Manslaughter

Involuntary manslaughter is when individuals commit a crime such as driving while under the influence, and their actions result in the death of another person. In such cases, individuals can be punished with lesser penalties if they can prove that their actions were unintentional. However, if the individual who’s DUI resulted in the death of one or more person, he or she may be charged with a first-degree murder. 

Ex: Johnny is driving back home from a long night at a bar. On his way home, he runs over and kills a pedestrian. Johnny reckless behavior can be charged with an involuntary manslaughter since his actions were not out of malice or intentional.

Murder is a very serious offence that can hold different types of penalties depending on the factors of the case. Murder is an aspect of homicide which addresses the death caused by the actions of another person. Homicide laws hold varying degrees of penalties and fines that arise when a person is killed. In some cases, the killing of another person can be seen as self-defense in which case the individual cannot be charged with homicide. To learn the specifics about your case and to learn how the case will hold up in a court of law, you are encouraged to speak with a local attorney. Leah Legal offices may be contacted at 818-582-2350. We are ready to represent your case and provide legal guidance in every step of the way.