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Homicide: What are the different charges?

When someone dies at the hands of another person, regardless of whether it was intentional or accidental, it is called a homicide. While homicide isn’t always a crime, such as in a clear case of self-defense, most homicides result in criminal trials. Criminal homicides can be due to negligence, such as in a car accident, or willful intent. Below, we will outline various homicide charges, and explain what they mean. As always, if you have been charged with a homicide, whether accidental or intentional, it is crucial for you to meet with us to discuss your case and your options.

First Degree Murder

Also known as capital murder, this is the most serious form of criminal homicide, and it is reserved for deliberate and premeditated killings. Premeditation can include a range of planning timelines, from long-term plans to mere moments. Courts have found that a plan to kill can be made in a fraction of a second, and that deliberation and premeditation exist as long as a conscious plan to cause a death is made. A first degree homicide is intentional, with a clear-headed decision to kill the victim, such as a person buying a murder weapon, sitting in a car with it, and using it to kill a spouse.

Second Degree Murder

Better described as felony murder, second degree murder is a killing committed while an individual, whether as a perpetrator or accomplice, is engaged in a dangerous felony, including robbery, rape, arson, burglary, and kidnapping. An intent to commit a killing is not necessary. An example of second degree murder would be two friends entering a bank with the intent to commit a robbery, during which one shoots and kills a guard. Both the shooter and his accomplice would be charged with second degree murder.

Third Degree Murder

Pennsylvania recognizes a third category of murder in which the killing is committed with malice but without the explicit intent to kill. This category covers all murder that does not meet the standards of either first (premeditated) or second degree (felony) murder. An individual may be guilty of third degree murder if he fires a gun into a building he knows is occupied.

Voluntary Manslaughter

Manslaughter describes an illegal killing that doesn’t quite qualify as murder. Voluntary manslaughter typically involves a killing which was voluntary, but was done impulsively. This charge involves a killing during the heat of the moment, where someone is provoked to kill before having enough time to regain composure. An example of this type of charge would be a spouse who catches his partner in bed with someone else, and uses any handy weapon to kill one or both parties.

Involuntary Manslaughter

As its name implies, this is a homicide that was not committed on purpose, but resulted from reckless or negligent behavior. In addition, involuntary manslaughter can occur when someone accidentally causes another person’s death while committing a low-level unlawful act. Some examples of involuntary manslaughter are DUI car accidents or hitting a pedestrian while speeding. In addition, a failure to act or perform a duty can result in involuntary manslaughter. For example, a parent who knowingly fails to obtain medical treatment for a sick child can be charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Legal Homicides

As mentioned above, not all homicides are crimes. In cases of self-defense, such as during an armed robbery, rape, or other violent crime, self-defense homicides can be ruled legal.

Wrongful Death Claims

Along with a criminal case where a defendant is tried for one of the charges above, victims’ families may file a civil lawsuit for wrongful death. As the world saw with the OJ Simpson case, Mr. Simpson was tried by the state of California for murder, was acquitted, and then was found guilty in a civil trial brought by a victim’s family. Civil trials for wrongful death have lower standards of proof than the criminal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

When a case involves loss of life, it is imperative that the accused is represented by attorneys experienced in criminal law. If you have been charged with a homicide, or if you think you may be, contact us today to discuss your case.


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