Are you curious to know about different degrees of murder? Follow this article to learn what is 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree murder and the terms and penalties associated with each degree.
Murder is one of the evilest acts in our society. Taking another person’s life is considered one of the most horrific actions someone could ever commit. And this is something that is known to all, law enforcement officers as well as non-specialists.
One might think that murder is just murder. We, the public, understand murder as simply the killing of someone and that it must be entertained by the highest penalty and sentence. But in the eyes of the law, murder is not that simple. It is essential to keep in mind that not every murder is done with malicious intent or any intent at all. For example, we’ve heard stories of self-defense; people sometimes have no other option to save themselves than to attack back, which can lead to murder sometimes.
Although murder is a horrific act that must be severely punished, it may not be the case with every murder. To make it more precise, the law has divided murder into different types, which are differentiated based on severity. These types are not just for the law; everyone must understand these. It is vital for everyone to educate themselves regarding different types and degrees of murders.
Having knowledge about different types and degrees of murders is for your own good. You must be aware and knowledgeable so that no one can take advantage of your lack of knowledge. Also, there are many legal terms associated with the murder that are confusing to those with limited experience and understanding of legal matters. This article will explore every such thing in detail. Follow this guide to learn what is 1st, 2nd, and 3rd-degree murder and what the penalties are for each type.
Understanding degrees of murder
Murder is defined by the law as the “unlawful killing of a human being or a fetus, with malice afterthought.”
One must wonder, aren’t all murders equally bad? No, not according to the law and justice system. Murder is categorized as first, second, or third-degree, and each degree or type is associated with different circumstances, reasons, backgrounds, weapons used for murder, and sometimes the mental state of the person is also taken into consideration. There are many different reasons that determine the degree of murder. A murderer is then charged with the penalty or sentence accordingly.
Many people get confused about different types of murders, or sometimes they don’t just care to know. They only try to find out about such matters when they need to or when they face any legal issues regarding any murder. This is not always a good approach. To be a sensible citizen, you must be aware of the essential and basic rules and laws regarding heinous crimes like murder.
In order to know what is a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd-degree murder, you first need to know the reasons or factors behind this differentiation. Below, we have listed some of the factors that play a part in determining the type or degree of the murder.
The intent is one of the most significant factors that differentiates different degrees of murders. Whether the murderer had intended to kill the victim and for how long he had intended to, this helps the law authorities determine which category the murder falls in.
For example, if someone gets to know that their sibling is going to get a more significant portion of the inheritance and kills the sibling to get a bigger share of the inheritance, this is intended murder. Murders who intend to kill someone cannot escape the most severe form of punishment from the law.
In the opposite case, if a drunk driver is driving carelessly and runs over someone who ends up dying from this incident, this was indeed not intended. But it’s still murder, and the murderer cannot get away with it, but at least he will not be given a death sentence and will not be thrown into jail for as long as the murderer who intended to kill.
The intent is not only meant for the murderer himself. For example, if you rob a shop with your friend who kills the security guard of the shop, you will be charged with first-degree murder, even though you did not kill the person yourself.
Cruelty or the extent of torture before death is also a factor that is kept in consideration when trying to figure out the degree of murder. Even in an intended murder, there may be cases when the victim was not tortured, tormented, or abused in any way. Or there might be cases when there is some torture involved. In such cases, the severity of the torture is looked upon. For example, if the victim was raped and killed or if the victim had to suffer mutilation even before dying.
Such crimes are difficult to escape punishment. Cruel murderers are mostly charged with first-degree murder, which is the degree that comes with the most severe punishment and penalty.
But there are cases when cruelty is not considered. For example, if someone provoked the murderer to kill, or if someone or something made him lose his temper, then in such cases, the cruelty factor can be overlooked. Although it will still be a murder, and the killer can be charged with manslaughter, it is still better than being charged with murder of any degree.
First-degree murder is the most serious and severe form of murder. According to the law, any murder committed with intent or premeditation comes under the category of first-degree murder. If the murder was pre-planned and well-sorted before its execution, then it is first-degree murder and gets the highest charge.
Also, if the murder is committed alongside any other crime, it is also considered to be first-degree murder. Such murders may be intended or might have no intent at all. For example, if you’re fleeing from a crime scene after committing a crime, and you run over someone in a hurry, then it’s a felony murder and will also be considered a first-degree murder and will be punished accordingly.
Some of the major felony crimes include kidnapping, robbery, rape, arson, burglary, etc. If you happen to murder someone as a consequence of such felony crimes, you will be charged with first-degree murder.
Moreover, if you’re involved in a crime with some partner who ends up killing someone, you will end up getting first-degree murder charges, even though you didn’t commit the murder yourself. For example, while running after robbing a shop, your partner ends up killing the bodyguard, then alongside him, you will also be charged with first-degree murder.
Elements of first-degree murder
According to the criminal law, for a murder to be classified as a first-degree one, it needs to have the following elements or critical aspects.
- Intent: The first element is that of intent. All first-degree murders are carried out intendedly, meaning that the murdered intended to kill the victim. If it’s felony murder, the murderer must have intended to commit the felony.
- Premeditation: This is a critical aspect of classifying a first-degree murder. All first-degree murders are pre-intended and deliberated. This means that the killing was purposeful and planned out. This includes scenarios like making preparations like buying a weapon or waiting for the victim to arrive at a particular time and place.
- Malice aforethought: A first-degree murder is always done with malice aforethought. It is a legal term that means that the murder was committed due to a general disregard for human life and was done with intent and purpose.
First-degree murder sentencing and penalties
Since the first-degree murder is of the highest severity, it is no surprise that the sentencing and penalties for such murder are also the most severe. In most cases, the first-degree murderer is sentenced to death, provided certain factors are met. While in some cases, the murderer might just get a life sentence or get imprisoned for life without any chances of parole.
There might be cases when the killer gets a lesser sentence of like 20 or 25 years of life in prison, but these depend on the precise nature or surroundings of the crime. There are some hat determine the harshness or severity of the crime. Here are some examples:
- The murderer has a proven crime history and has been involved in various crimes in the past.
- The murder happened while convicting any other felony like rape, robbery, burglary, etc.
- The victim was poisoned.
- The victim was a policeman, lawman, witness, prosecutor, or jury member.
These and many other aggravating factors determine the severity of the punishment. Most of the time, strong aggravating factors like the ones mentioned above get to have the death penalty or life sentence. The cases where aggravating factors are not much strong might result in lesser punishments.
Second-degree murder has lesser severity than first-degree murder. Although it is still an intended murder, there is no premeditation or planning involved in this type of murder. The murderer does not plan beforehand to kill the person. Although he intended to kill at that moment, no planning was involved. Moreover, if the murderer only intended to cause serious bodily harm and not kill, he will be charged with second-degree murder charges.
People are sometimes confused with this type of murder, as it involves intent but not planning. So here’s an example. If you and your friend have a meeting and you both arrive at the meeting place, but when the meeting starts, you are not able to come on the same terms as your friend, or you are not able to convince him about something. You both start fighting, and in the heat of the moment, you pull out your gun and shoot him. So, you did not plan to kill your friend beforehand, but you intended to shoot him.
Some state laws declare that every murder that does not fall into the category of first-degree murder is categorized as second-degree murder.
Elements of second-degree murder
According to the definition of second-degree murder described above, there are two essential elements of second-degree murder.
- No premeditation or planning: This is one of the crucial aspects that classifies murder as a second-degree one. If there is no premeditation or planning involved in a murder, it might fall under the category of second-degree murder. Most of the time, second-degree murders are a result of rage and are just done in the heat of the moment.
- Intent: Even though there is no planning involved in the second-degree murders, they are still done with the intention to cause harm to someone or kill them. Even though a person might get caught up in the heat of the moment and kill someone, the fact that he knows what he is doing is enough to get him charged with second-degree murder charges.
Second-degree murder sentencing and penalties
The penalties and punishments for second-degree murder are not as harsh as those for first-degree murder, but they are still important to know. The precise second-degree murder sentencing might vary with each state. But a general punishment might result in 15 years in jail to life imprisonment. This may or may not include parole options, depending on the severity of the murder. A death sentence is never given for second-degree murder.
However, there might be some aggravating factors that might result in increasing the sentence and penalty severity. Here are some examples of such elements.
- The murderer has used any deadly weapon like a knife, gun, etc. while killing the victim.
- The murderer has a record of previous convictions or has been involved in crimes in the past.
- The murderer has high hatred for the victim.
Just as these aggravating factors can lead to more severe sentences, there are some mitigating factors as well that can lead to a reduction in sentences or less harsh sentences.
- The murderer has had an extremely troubled childhood.
- The murderer has some sort of mental illness that lessens his brain capacity.
- The murderer has a clean criminal record.
- The murderer shows genuine remorse after killing.
Coming towards the last degree of murder, third-degree murder is the least severe type of murder. Most states don’t have third-degree murder in their criminal legal rules; they categorize murder as only the first two degrees. Third-degree murder exists only in three American states; Florida, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania.
As for the definition, third-degree murder involves neither the convict’s intention and will nor any planning. This type of murder happens out of unintentional conditions since it is committed only to cause bodily harm but not to kill. This type of murder is different from first-degree and second-degree murders since there is no intent or premeditation involved in this type of murder.
Examples of this murder include hitting someone with a car while driving recklessly, and the person dies due to that incident or pushing someone away, which might result in the victim’s head hitting on something hard and dying.
Elements of third-degree murder
Just like the first two degrees of murder, third-degree murder also has some elements or circumstances that make a murder or killing fall into this category.
- Intent: In the third-degree murder, there is no intent to kill the victim, but there is intent to cause bodily harm and violence. If there is intent to kill as well, then such murders are not classified as third-degree murders and they fall into the category of first and second-degree murders.
- No premeditation: In a third-degree murder, there is no premeditation or planning done for killing the victim. Such murders are always a result of reckless behavior or other minor felonies.
Third-degree murder sentencing and penalties
The penalties for third-degree murder vary from state to state. In Minnesota, a third-degree murderer gets up to 25 years of imprisonment and $40,000 fines. The state of Pennsylvania punishes such acts with 40 years of imprisonment. Meanwhile, in Florida, third-degree murders are given the penalty of 15 years of imprisonment and $10,000 fines. The parole options may or may not be included, depending on various factors.
What is manslaughter?
In some cases, the killing of a person does not identify as murder. Instead, it is identified as an act of manslaughter. Many people get confused with both these terms, murder and manslaughter, since they are often used in the same context, and both refer to the act of killing a human being.
Manslaughter is defined as an unlawful killing of a person that does not involve any premeditation and intent to kill or cause any harm. There isn’t any malice aforethought as well, meaning that the convict generally has no disregard or immoral thoughts for the overall humanity. So, even though manslaughter is a serious crime, it gets a lesser sentence and punishment than murder.
Manslaughter is further classified into two categories; voluntary and involuntary. The definitions of both these categories are detailed below.
Voluntary manslaughter is defined as the act of killing that occurs when the victim is provoked and he kills in the heat of that provocation. When someone or something becomes the reason for provoking the convict who then ends up killing someone, then it is not considered a first or second-degree murder. It is just the result of uncontrollable anger or human weakness.
To understand voluntary manslaughter better, here is an example. A person arrives home to see his girlfriend cheating on him with someone else, and he might get frustrated to the extent that he ends up killing his girlfriend or her new lover. The law or jury might decide to involve such cases in voluntary manslaughter.
Involuntary manslaughter involves cases of unintentional homicide that are the result of criminal negligence or reckless conduct. It is basically the consequence of the accidental actions of the convict. For example, if the reckless driving of the convict can result in the death of someone, it might be a case of involuntary manslaughter, depending on certain aspects looked at by the law. There is no intent or premeditation involved in such cases.
Manslaughter sentencing and penalties
There is no death sentence for manslaughter crimes, but the convicts of such crimes often end up getting a prison time. Sentences and penalties for manslaughter might vary in different states and according to their laws. Different circumstances are also taken into account by the jurisdiction. The penalty for manslaughter can range from three to ten years, or more or less in some cases.
Murder is a serious offense, no matter what form or degree it may be. Hope you got your answer to what is 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree murder. This article has deeply explained all the three degrees of murder, the important aspects and elements for each degree and what penalties are given for such crimes.
Life is so unpredictable, there are times when people end up killing someone without any kind of intention. In order to avoid such situations, it is best to always be aware of laws and regulations regarding murder and also take help from a criminal lawyer who better understands such situations in any case. It is our responsibility as a citizen to understand such situations so that we can help ourselves and others as well, at the time of need.