Murder, or homicide, is the unlawful taking of another human life, or fetus. In any state, the homicide is a first-degree charge if it is premeditated or done with “malice aforethought.”
There are different degrees of murder, or homicide, depending on the defendant’s state of mind, the circumstances of the killing, and if justified. Murder involves some state of malice by the defendant.
First degree murder is a capital crime in states with the death penalty; otherwise, you face life without parole. Contact James Silverstein, an experienced criminal defense attorney, if you are charged with murder.
This refers to the defendant’s guilty mental state. It implies that the defendant either intended to kill or engaged in some conduct that he or she knew was dangerous and acted with conscious disregard for human life. First or second degree murder requires the element of malice.
First Degree Murder
Anyone who commits murder that is deliberate and premeditated, or while committing a particular felony, such as sexual assault or robbery, sets in motion events that leads to a fatality is guilty of first-degree murder (felony murder).
Examples of first-degree murder include:
- Murder of a public official, police officer or firefighter
- Murder for hire
- Murder of a witness
- Murder of multiple victims
- Murder by drive-by shooting
- Felony murder
- Street gang murder
A defendant can be convicted of first or second degree murder if the act led to a fatality even if not intended. For example, a person committing a robbery fires a gun in the air that kills another person by accident. Another is a fleeing robber who shoots at police and a bullet from a police officer’s weapon kills a bystander.
Most states will list certain offenses that qualify for the felony murder rule. Examples of these offenses include kidnapping, torture, rape, robbery, arson, and carjacking.
Second Degree Murder
Any felony that involved conduct that is dangerous to human life, or is inherently dangerous, and results in a death can be murder in the second degree. There is usually no premeditation or deliberate intent to kill someone.
For example, operating a meth lab that explodes and kills anyone is probably second degree murder as unlawfully handling hazardous materials is inherently dangerous. A DUI that results in a death can be charged as second degree murder as can discharging a firearm in a crowded room that kills someone.
A common defense is self-defense; that you reasonably believed you were in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or of losing your life and acted accordingly..
Other defenses are accidental killings (firearm accidentally discharged) or by reason of insanity if you did not understand the nature of your act and did not know right from wrong. Expert testimony is required for this defense.
For any serious criminal matter, contact James Silverstein to ensure enforcement of your rights, that your case is thoroughly investigated, and that every possible defense has been explored