How Are Homicide Charges Determined?

Murder is the most serious criminal charge. If you are charged with murder in Pennsylvania – whether the charge is murder in the first, second, or third degree – you must be defended by a skilled Philadelphia homicide attorney, and you must contact that attorney immediately.

Generally speaking, a homicide happens whenever one person kills another person. Like every other state, Pennsylvania classifies homicides as either murders or manslaughters.

Murders are categorized as first-, second-, or third-degree murders, and manslaughters are either “voluntary” or “involuntary.” There are also more specific homicide charges such as vehicular homicide.

How is Murder Defined?

A murder is a homicide characterized by malice and intention. It is the intentional killing of another person without any legal excuse or justification. What are the differences between first-, second-, and third-degree murder charges in Pennsylvania?

  1. First-degree murder is an intentional homicide that requires malice, intention, and premeditation.
  2. Second-degree murder is a homicide that is committed either without premeditation (in the “heat of passion”) or a homicide that is committed while the perpetrator was acting as either a principal or as an accomplice in the commission of a felony.
  3. All other murders in Pennsylvania are considered third-degree murders.

This cannot be stressed strongly enough: If you are facing any of these charges in or near the Philadelphia area – now or in the future – you must contact the law offices of a Philadelphia criminal defense attorney as quickly as possible, and get the legal help you need.

What Does First-Degree Murder Entail?

A first-degree murder is an intentional murder that requires malice and premeditation, but how does a prosecutor prove malice and premeditation? Lying in wait for the victim, for example, is considered evidence that the crime was committed maliciously and with premeditation.

If the perpetrator left notes, texts, emails, or online posts suggesting murder before the murder was committed, or if the perpetrator carried a deadly weapon to the murder scene, those actions may also be considered evidence of malice and premeditation.

Which Convictions May Prompt the Death Penalty?

A first-degree murder conviction is typically penalized with a prison sentence – life without the possibility of parole – but the death sentence may be imposed for a first-degree murder conviction in Pennsylvania if the murder victim was:

  1. in the third trimester of a pregnancy
  2. under the age of 12
  3. a law enforcement officer
  4. an on-duty firefighter or another on-duty public servant
  5. killed in a way that created a serious risk of death for a third party

What Does Second-Degree Murder Entail?

In Pennsylvania, a second-degree murder charge can be brought against you if:

  1. You intentionally kill another person in the “heat of passion” suddenly and without premeditation.
  2. Someone dies while you are in the act of perpetrating a felony, whether you were actually committing the crime or only acting as an accomplice.

A second-degree murder may be committed impulsively, may be the result of an action meant only to cause serious bodily harm, or may be the result of a depraved indifference to human life.

What Does Third-Degree Murder Entail?

A third-degree murder in Pennsylvania is simply any murder that does not fit the definition of first- or second-degree murder. Pennsylvania is one of only three states that charge defendants with third-degree murder.

Malice is a requirement for a third-degree murder charge, but not “malice aforethought.” The perpetrator’s action must be malicious – more than simple recklessness or negligence – and the perpetrator had to ignore the threat that his or her behavior posed to others’ lives.

What is Voluntary Manslaughter?

Voluntary manslaughter is defined as the killing of another individual in one of these situations:

  1. The perpetrator acted intentionally but with “sudden and intense passion” as the result of serious provocation by the person who was killed.
  2. While trying to kill the person who caused the serious provocation, the defendant accidentally or negligently killed a third person.

What is Involuntary Manslaughter?

Involuntary manslaughter happens when someone causes a death by acting recklessly or negligently. Involuntary manslaughter may be charged after a traffic accident, for example, if a driver’s reckless or negligent driving caused a fatality.

Every homicide case is different, and a specific homicide charge is determined and filed only after the prosecutor reviews the evidence and details of the case. In almost all homicide cases, the state will use every available legal tool to win a conviction.

That’s why anyone who is charged with murder or manslaughter in or near the Philadelphia area must be advised and represented by an experienced and skilled Philadelphia homicide attorney who has a record of success defending clients who face homicide charges.

How Will Your Homicide Case Be Handled?

The first step that a Philadelphia criminal defense attorney will take on your behalf in a homicide case may be attempting to have the charge against you dropped or the case dismissed. If that isn’t possible, your attorney may seek to negotiate a plea bargain.

In a typical plea bargain, a defendant pleads guilty to a reduced charge and accepts the sentence for that lesser charge. A second-degree murder charge might be reduced to third-degree murder, for example, or a voluntary manslaughter charge might be reduced to involuntary manslaughter.

If you committed a homicide and the case against you is conclusive, a plea bargain may be your best option for resolving a homicide charge. But if you’re innocent – if you didn’t commit the crime, or you’re certain the homicide was justifiable – you may insist on your right to a jury trial.

Who Can You Trust to Represent You?

A conviction for first- or second-degree murder can send you to prison for life – or in some cases prompt a death penalty – but even a conviction for involuntary manslaughter could put you in a Pennsylvania state prison for a number of years.

With so much at stake, you must be advised and represented by an attorney who has successfully defended clients charged with murder and manslaughter. Now or in the future, call the Liberty Law Team as soon as possible if you are charged with a homicide in or near Philadelphia.

You’ll be represented by criminal defense attorney Lonny Fish, a former Assistant District Attorney who has over twenty-five years of experience defending the accused and prevailing on their behalf.

Your first consultation with Liberty Law Team is offered without cost or obligation. You’ll receive personalized advice and learn how this state’s homicide laws apply to your own case. To learn more, or to get the legal help you need, call Liberty Law Team now at (215) 826-3314.