First-Degree Murder Meaning
Deliberation and Premeditation
First-degree murder requires the killing to be deliberate and premeditated. These factors are determined on a case by case basis in court. Premeditation and deliberation are often defined as at least considering and acting on the plan with enough time to reconsider their actions. To be charged with first-degree murder, the killer must have had time to plan their killing in advance.
Malice and Malice Aforethought
In many states, the perpetrator must have acted with malice to be charged with first-degree murder. Every state will define malice differently for first-degree murder charges. Some will call it indifference to human life; some will define it as an evil purpose. Malice aforethought is defined as a premeditated action of evil intent or that shows an indifference to human life. Some states require the malice to be separate from the premeditation for a first-degree murder charge.
Enumerated First-Degree Murders
Some types of murder are automatically classified as first-degree murder in certain states. If this is the case, then deliberation, premeditation, and intent are not necessary to be charged as first-degree murder.
Some crimes that are automatically first-degree murder include:
- Killings with a history of domestic abuse
- Killing children with unreasonable force
- Felony homicide
- The killing of law enforcement officers
This is not a complete list; each state classifies different crimes as first-degree murder. Consult your state laws for a full list.
Certain methods of killing may also be classified as first-degree murder, such as:
- Imprisonment and torture
- Lying in wait for the victim
- Intentional poisoning