What Does First Degree Murder Mean?
First-degree murder is often the charge given to severe murders and carries large penalties. In general terms, murders that are premeditated and intentional will result in first-degree murder charges.
What Does a Prosecutor Need to Prove For a First Degree Murder Conviction?
In order to successfully prove a first degree murder charge, the prosecutor needs to prove that the following elements occurred:
- There was intent – The death was not accidental, that the defendant intended to kill their victim. If the defendant meant to kill one person but accidentally killed another, they would still be charged with first degree murder.
- The defendant had time to change their mind – The murder was not a spur of the moment decision; the defendant had time to consider their actions and change their mind. There is no minimum amount of time required to count as a deliberation period; the prosecutor must just prove that there was sufficient time to deliberate.
- Premeditation – The defendant must have put some thought into the crime, even as simple as picking up a weapon in order to commit the murder. Premeditation does not need the defendant to have planned the murder for weeks.
What Are the Penalties For First Degree Murder?
First degree murder carries serious penalties. In some states, it can result in the death penalty or life without the chance of parole. The prosecutor will present the court with sentencing guidelines and the judge will consider them and the law when giving a sentence for first degree murder. Often the circumstances of the crime are carefully considered to ensure the defendant receives a fair sentence.
What Is the Difference Between First Degree Murder and Second Degree Murder?
Second degree murder is much less serious than first degree murder as it is often not premeditated or deliberated. Second degree murder will not receive the death penalty, but it may receive life in prison without the chance of parole. Like first degree murder, second degree murder is intentional, but it is more spur of the moment or through negligent or willfully dangerous actions.
In some states, second degree murder is the charge for any murders that do not fit the criteria of first degree murder but are not accidental and therefore cannot be charged as manslaughter. Each state has a different definition of what constitutes a first degree murder charge and what is second degree murder. If you are facing a first degree murder charge or second degree murder charge, contact a criminal defense attorney.