Understanding First-, Second- and Third-Degree Murder

When faced with a murder charge, it is important to understand the severity of the crime and how it may affect you. At Bellwoar Kelly, LLP, we can vigorously defend you against first-, second- and third-degree murder.

First-Degree Murder: A Fight For Your Life

If you are charged with first-degree murder, your life is on the line. If convicted, you will face either the death penalty or life in prison without parole. The stakes are high. So much of the outcome depends on having the right lawyer. At Bellwoar Kelly, LLP, our first-degree murder defense attorneys have the experience, knowledge and commitment to mount the best defense for these charges. Call us today at 610-314-7066 or email us to protect your life and your future.

At The Crux Of The Charge, Intent

To be convicted of first-degree murder, the state must prove that you had malice and an intent to kill the victim and that you carried out a premeditated plan. For example, if you went to someone’s home with a gun, hid outside and then shot the person when he or she returned, this would constitute first-degree murder. If, however, you killed someone after unexpectedly getting in a fight or another situation wherein a lawyer might argue that the death took place in the “heat of the moment,” this would be treated as a different type of murder with lesser penalties.

Defenses Against First-Degree Murder Charges

To build your case, an attorney will need to gather evidence, including witness accounts, alibis or proof that you acted in self-defense or defense of others rather than with premeditated malice. An attorney can also defend the accused by arguing that the state has arrested the wrong person (mistaken identity). An attorney can also invoke the insanity defense to demonstrate that the accused didn’t understand that what he or she was doing was wrong. Whatever approach an attorney may choose, the aim is to reduce the charges or, where possible, get them dismissed.

Second-Degree Murder: A Crime Without Intent

A prosecutor need not prove that you had prior intent to kill if you are charged with second-degree murder. This lack of intent to kill is what differentiates first-degree murder charges from second-degree murder charges. A second-degree murder charge, however, still comes with significant penalties. If you are convicted, you face the prospect of spending the rest of your life in prison. And you need a committed and experienced second-degree murder defense attorney on your side to counter the prosecution’s case. In the West Chester, Pennsylvania, area, don’t hesitate to call Bellwoar Kelly, LLP at 610-314-7066 or contact us online if you have been charged with second-degree murder or think that you are being investigated.

You Can Be Charged Even If You Didn’t Pull The Trigger

If a person dies while you are engaged in a felony in which that person’s death wasn’t necessarily part of the plan, you can still be charged with second-degree murder. This is true even if you are not directly responsible for the victim’s death. For example, if you commit a robbery with two co-conspirators, and one of your co-conspirators shoots and kills someone, you will be charged with second-degree murder, even though you weren’t the one who pulled the trigger. If a jury convicts you, you will spend the rest of your life in prison.

Murder In The Third Degree

If you have been accused of or are under investigation for first-degree murder, second-degree murder or third-degree murder, contact Bellwoar Kelly, LLP immediately to discuss your case and charges with an experienced Chester County murder lawyer.

Murder in the third degree is an incredibly serious offense. 18 pa.c.s 2502 reads in part:

§ 2502. Murder

(c) Murder of the third degree.–All other kinds of murder shall be murder of the third degree. Murder of the third degree is a felony of the first degree.

Murder of the Third Degree, up to five years and or as a felony, punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for 40 years with a fine of $50,000.

What’s The Difference Between First-, Second And Third-Degree Murder?

Murder, or criminal homicide, is defined in Pennsylvania as causing the death of another person under one of these circumstances:

  • You fully intend to kill the other person (first-degree murder).
  • You know your actions may result in the death of another (second-degree murder).
  • Your behavior shows you don’t care if someone dies because of your actions (voluntary manslaughter).
  • You accidentally cause another person to die (involuntary manslaughter).

First-degree murder carries the most serious punishment of any crime — death or life imprisonment with no parole. Its identifying characteristic is intent. It is killing that is premeditated, willful, planned and deliberate.

Second-degree murder usually occurs in the course of committing a felony crime such as a robbery or burglary. Conviction on second-degree murder charges leads to life imprisonment without parole.

Third-degree murder is a catch-all category that includes all other homicides. These crimes are characterized by recklessness or inattention. A crime of passion, in which an argument ends with one person dead, constitutes voluntary manslaughter. You knew that pulling the trigger would have a fatal effect. A killing in which the killer was being careless, as in vehicular homicide, constitutes involuntary homicide.

Contact Your West Chester Criminal Defense Attorneys Today

It matters hugely what degree of murder you are charged with. The law regarding homicide is often contradictory, drawing on thousands of previous cases, in addition to the law in the books. If you are charged with shoplifting, an ordinary defense attorney will probably do. When so much is at stake, however, you owe it to yourself and to the people who care about you and depend on you to choose the most experienced homicide lawyer you can find.

In West Chester, that’s Bellwoar Kelly, LLP. Call us for a no-charge, no-obligation first discussion of your case and your chances. We are at 610-314-7066. Or you may ask us questions using this email form.