Home Blog Difference Between First And Second Degree Murders (Overview)

Difference Between First And Second Degree Murders (Overview)

What is the difference Between First And Second Degree Murders?

How are 1st and 2nd degree murders different?

What should you know?

Keep reading as we have gathered exactly the information that you need!

Let’s see what is the difference between 1st and 2nd degree murders!!

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What Is The Difference Between First And Second Degree Murders

In essence, first-degree murder is generally when a person intentionally kills another person in a premeditated, willful, planned, or deliberate manner whereas second-degree murder occurs when a person ends up killing someone while committing a felony crime such as a robbery.

Murder is one of the worst types of crime that can be committed in society as it entails the killing of another human being.

Depending on the state or jurisdiction that you are in, a person may be charged differently for killing someone.

In this article, I’ll be focusing specifically on the difference between 1st and 2nd degree murder charges.

To better understand the notions of first and second degree murders, let’s define “murder” and then look at the crime classifications.

Murder Definition

Although murder can be defined slightly differently depending on the applicable criminal law, it generally refers to the criminal act of killing another person, causing the death of another person, or not caring for the life of another person if a person were to die.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, murder is defined as:

The crime of deliberately killing a person
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For example, when a person takes a gun a deliberately shoots and kills another person, that’s a murder crime.

When a person is killed by another, the prosecutor can file different types of charges depending on the circumstances of the case. 

Let’s look at the crime classification when someone is killed.

First Degree Murder Meaning

First degree murder is the most serious type of murder charge that can be filed by the prosecutor against someone.

For a person to be accused of a 1st degree murder, the defendant must have planned and deliberately killed another human being. 

We are talking about the killing being done in a premeditated fashion where the accused had a clear intent to kill or to take another person’s life.

For example, when a person stalks someone before killing them or plans out an elaborate setup to lure and kill someone, you have 1st degree murder.

Second Degree Murder Meaning

Second degree murder is the second most serious type of murder charge where a person intentionally kills someone but in an unplanned fashion or without premeditation.

For instance, when a person is committing a felony crime like burglary and in the heat of the action, the perpetrator ends up killing someone by fear, anger, or extreme emotions although the person did not have the intention of killing someone in the first place.

As a result, for a person to be accused of 2nd degree murder, he or she must have killed another human being but in an unplanned and non-premeditated fashion.

Murder Crime Classification

It’s important to mention that the classification that I will make reference to here is to give you a general perspective.

Each jurisdiction will have its own statutory definition of murder crimes and possible classifications so it’s important to consult with a criminal attorney or defense lawyer for specifics in your jurisdiction.

With that out of the way, you can expect murder charges to be classified as follows:

  • First degree murder:  when a person deliberately kills another person
  • Second degree murder: when a person commits actions that he or she is aware may lead to the death of another
  • Third degree murder: refers to any other scenario that a person is killed such as the crime of passion, death caused by recklessness or inattention (in certain jurisdictions, this crime can be categorized as voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter)

Based on this classification, you can see that first degree murder is the most serious type of murder crime as it was intentionally carried out.

Some states do not officially use the term “first degree murder” but rather coin it as “capital murder”.

Second degree murder charges are less serious than first degree murders but are more serious than third degree murder charges (or manslaughter).

In some states, “second-degree murder” is not formally used as a term but instead may use a term like “murder” to nuance it with “capital murder”.

Degrees of Intent For 1st And 2nd Degree Murder

Now that we have defined 1st and 2nd degree murders, we can now answer the question: what’s the difference between first and second degree murders? 

The short answer is the defendant’s criminal intent when the crime was committed.

A person who “planned” and “deliberately” or “willfully” kills another human being is guilty of first-degree murder whereas a person that “did not plan” but killed another human while committing a crime being is guilty of second-degree murder.

Willfulness

Let’s look at what willfullness, deliberation, and premeditation mean.

Willfulness

When a person willfully kills another person, the prosecutor will bring 1st-degree murder charges against the offender.

To kill willfully means that the defendant had the intention to end another person’s life.

It does not matter if the offender kills the right person or accidentally kills the wrong person, what matters is that the person had the clear intention of killing another person and carried out the act.

Deliberation

A deliberate act of murder is when a killer had, prior to killing someone, evaluated the consequences of the act and decided to proceed with the killing.

When the act was “deliberate”, it means that the person had enough time to think about killing someone and made a clear decision to carry out the act.

Deliberation will result in a first-degree murder charge.

Premeditation

Murder with premeditation is when a person thought about the consequences of killing someone and carried out the crime.

Premeditation is similar to deliberation in a certain way in the sense that the offender had time to think about the act.

In this case, the point is now how long the offender had time to think about committing murder, what’s important is that the opportunity to think about it was there and the defendant carried out the crime nonetheless.

When there’s premeditation, you will have 1st-degree murder charges.

No Premeditation

In certain cases, a person ends up killing another human being but without the killing being planned or premeditated.

This will give you a second-degree murder charge.

For example:

  • A person intentionally kills another person in the spur of the moment
  • A person intended to cause serious bodily injuries to someone but ended up causing the death of the person 
  • A person committed or attempted to commit a felony and in doing so ended up killing someone 

As you can see, in my examples, the notion of premeditation is absent.

In other words, the person did in fact intentionally kill someone but was not planning to do so.

Penalty For 1st And 2nd Degree Murders

What’s the difference between 1st and 2nd degree murders from a penalty point of view?

As an initial comment, keep in mind that the penalty for first and second degree murders may vary depending on the applicable laws and jurisdiction.

What I present here is intended to give you an overall perspective but you should certainly call a defense lawyer to get specific legal advice if you are dealing with a 1st or 2nd degree murder accusation.

First degree murder is the most serious murder charge that a person can face and the punishment for it can be quite severe.

In some states, first degree murder can be punishable by death or a life in prison without the possibility of parole, probation, or suspended sentence as may be determined by the jury.

It’s worth mentioning that certain states have age requirements to sentence someone to death or life in prison (for example in Texas the defendant must be at least 17 years of age).

In other states, first degree murder will give you automatic life imprisonment and no parole before 25 years.

On the other hand, second degree murder is generally punishable by a life sentence without the possibility of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence as may be determined by a jury.

Other states may give 10-year imprisonment with no parole or depending on the seriousness of the crime, it may go up to 25 years without parole.

Difference Between 1st and 2nd Degree Murders Takeaway

So there you have it folks!

What’s the difference between 1st degree and 2nd degree murders?

To start with, murder is one of the most serious crimes that can be committed by a person under criminal laws.

When a person is killed, murder charges will be brought against the perpetrator and depending on the seriousness of the crime, the murder charge will bear a different “degree” on the seriousness spectrum.

For a person to be charged and found guilty of first-degree murder, he or she must have planned to kill someone and carried out such plan.

On the other hand, for a person to be charged and convicted of second-degree murder, he or she must have killed someone on the spur of the moment either intentionally or through reckless behavior.

First degree murders generally fall into two categories:

A premeditated killing is when a person deliberately decides to stalk another person to eventually kill the victim.

The felony murder rule is when a crime is charged as first degree murder when a person kills another in the course of committing a felony crime (like arson, burglary, rape, robbery etc).

Second degree murders are unplanned intentional killings or when a person is killed due to the offender’s reckless disregard for human life.

I hope I was able to clarify the main differences between first and second degree murders so you can better understand the concept.

Let’s look at a summary of our findings.

Difference Between 1st Degree And 2nd Degree Murders

  • First degree murder typically refers to the unlawful killing of another human being that is willful and premeditated 
  • Second degree murder refers to an unpremeditated but intentional killing of another human being 
  • The main difference between first-degree murders and second-degree murders is the offender’s state of mind where you need some form of premeditation for first-degree murders
  • 1st degree murders also receive a much stricter sentence than 2nd degree murders (life in prison or capital punishment for the former and 10 to 25 years of imprisonment for the latter)
1st degree murders
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Editorial Staffhttps://lawyer.zone
Hello Nation! I'm a lawyer and passionate about law. I've practiced law in a boutique law firm, worked in a multi-national organization and as in-house counsel. I've been around the block! On this blog, I provide you with golden nuggets of information about lawyers, attorneys, the law and legal theories. Enjoy!

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