In general terms, second-degree murder is intentional but not premeditated. Second-Degree murder penalties and even the definition will vary by state, but most states consider the following circumstances second-degree murder:
- Intention to kill with no premeditation
- Intent to cause bodily harm
- Extreme indifference to human life
- Felony murder
This article will contain examples of what is considered second-degree murder.
Second-Degree Murder: Intention But Lacking Premeditation
The murderer did not plan the crime and did not intend to kill the victim until the very moment. However, in the moment, the murder was intentional. For example, if the killer goes to the person’s house to resolve a disagreement but then spontaneously stabs or shoots the victim, this is second-degree murder. At the moment the murderer picked up the weapon, they intended to kill the victim. If the defendant was provoked by the victim, most states would not call this second-degree murder but perhaps third-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter.
Second-Degree Murder: Intent To Cause Bodily Harm
The charge might be second-degree murder if there was intent to cause serious harm to the victim but does not intend to kill them. For example, if the defendant delivers a number of blows to the head, knowing that it might kill the victim. While the intention might not have been to kill the person, the defendant knew that their actions might cause death.
Second-Degree Murder: Extreme Indifference to Human Life
The most common cause of second-degree murder is extreme indifference to human life. This is where the defendant knows their actions may cause harm or death, and they act anyway. Throwing something at a moving car on a freeway would be charged as second-degree murder if it caused death.
Second-Degree Murder: Felony Murder
Some states classify felony murder as first-degree murder, and others classify them as second-degree murders. Felony murder occurs when during the course of a felony, someone dies. The intent is not to kill anyone, but the person would not have died if the felony crime did not occur. Anyone committing the felony crime would be charged with felony murder even if they did not kill the person. For example, the getaway driver can be charged with felony murder even if they were not present when the victim was killed.