The Bloody Truth: Understanding First Degree Murder
You’ll hear on the news and see on television police procedurals that people charged with various types of homicide. First degree murder is the most serious of the various types of homicide, and often leads to life imprisonment or even the death penalty.
The different classifications of homicide confuse people. What makes first degree murder worse than second degree or manslaughter? These terms are not interchangeable.
The specific conditions for murder most foul differ by state. First degree murder has specific requirements that prosecutors must meet. Without meeting those requirements, prosecutors must consider a lesser charge.
We’re going to go over all the differences and information in this article, so keep reading.
The Various Types of Homicide
Homicide is a crime where one person dies through the unlawful action of another. Homicides come in three different types. Each must meet specific requirements.
Murder requires the act be the willful action of another person. The goal of the act is to end the life of the victim. This is generally separated into first and second degree murder. There are also some states that break it down into a third degree.
Manslaughter is a lesser charge where another person causes the death, but the act was not to kill. For example, a person charged with manslaughter may give another person a drug that causes them to overdose. The act resulted in a death, but it was not the intent.
States that have third degree murder charges are actually manslaughter charges.
It’s considered justifiable homicide when a person kills someone in self-defense. This is not a criminal act and no charges are filed.
Example: a mugger attempts to harm another person. He is instead killed by the victim. This is a justifiable homicide. The victim protected himself from harm.
What Is First Degree Murder?
For most cases of first degree murder, prosecutors must meet three criteria: intent, deliberation, and premeditation.
The goal of the act must be to end the life of the other person. It doesn’t have to be for a specific victim, but that the person who committed the crime wanted this person to die. It could be someone they know, the wrong person, or a random person.
If a gunman fires into a crowd and kills a random person or was looking to kill a friend and got the wrong person, it’s still considered first degree murder.
Intent also applies to anyone who “lies in wait” to kill someone. They are waiting, and intending, to kill the victim.
Deliberation and Premeditation
The second and third criteria go together. They show the person who committed the murder had the conscious intent to kill before the event. It can be an elaborate plan that shows the person spent days, weeks or months planning the event.
If a wife wants her husband killed, then she’ll spend weeks or months finding a person to kill him, raising the money or researching how to do it herself, for example.
It can also be a quick thought with enough time for the person to consider the act wrong and not do it. Even if a person pauses for only a few minutes to consider his actions and kills the person anyway, then it’s still first degree murder.
Let’s say a person is in an argument and in the heat of it pulls out a gun. If he takes a second to reconsider the action, but shoots and kills the other person anyway, then it’s first degree murder. He knew that what he was doing would kill the person and did it anyway.
Difference Between First and Second Degree Murder
There is a distinct, but very important, difference between first and second degree murder. The intent must still be there, but not the plan. These are often considered crimes of passion. The person who committed the crime did not plan before committing the crime.
For example: a husband finds his wife in bed with another man, then in a fit of rage kills him. He could be charged with second degree murder. His intent was to kill the man, but there was no planning.
Special Situations of First Degree Murder
The requirements for first degree murder can vary from state to state. Many states consider special situations that can also be first degree murder.
For example, some states need first degree murder to have malice. Malice means the person committed the crime on purpose with evil disposition or with indifference to human life.
There are some states that allow for first degree murder without the traditional requirements. These are often special circumstances. These include the child death caused by unreasonable force, death due to a pattern of domestic abuse, or death of a police officer.
Many states allow the felony murder rule. It’s considered a felony if the death occurred along with another crime such as theft, rape, etc.
Punishment for First Degree Murder
What is first degree murder? It’s the most serious offense in the law books. As such, it carries significant punishment dependent on the state and how good your lawyer is.
It is eligible for the death penalty and can lead to an execution in some states. The law guarantees a person convicted with the death penalty an appeal.
It is also eligible for life in prison and life in prison without the possibility of parole. States also set requirements on the severity of the crime to receive such harsh punishments. The death penalty may only be eligible if the crime was particularly violent or depraved.
Second degree murder can have a punishment of 20-25 years. This also depends on state law and the circumstances of the crime.
Murder Is a Serious Offense
Television shows can glamorize murder and make it seem almost mundane. It’s not: it’s the most serious crime.