A murder charge means that you are responsible for taking someone’s life. However, there are different classifications of murder. Most of them revolve around the amount of intent the murderer had. States have varying degrees of murder charges.
The degree of murder is related to the charges that the accused can face. The more aggressive or malicious the nature of the killing, the harsher the punishment is meant to be. If it was an accident, it shouldn’t carry the same punishment as if you intended, plotted, and planned someone’s murder, which is why states have a numerical classification of culpability.
First-Degree Murder or Capital Murder
The terms “first degree” or “capital murder” are the most serious type of murder charge that someone can be accused of. In most states, the definition of first-degree murder is that someone had intention, malice, or premeditation to commit murder.
The distinction between first-degree murder and other murder charges is that the murder was deliberate, which means that the murderer had a clear intention and had already made the decision to take someone’s life ahead of time. Premeditation means that the person who committed the murder actually thought about it in advance.
The period of time that someone has to consider killing someone for it to be premeditated can be very short. For someone to be accused of killing another individual with malice, there has to be proof that they didn’t have any cause or legal reason to take someone else’s life. For example, if someone plots to kill their husband to collect an insurance claim and waits at home for him with a loaded gun, that would be proof of malice. That would mean that they meant to kill and had made the decision before the killing took place.
According to a capital murder defense attorney, for some states additional factors must exist to charge someone with capital or first-degree murder. One of them is that there has to be a motive. Some motives even carry a higher degree of punishable sentences. Types of motives can be things like hate crimes or targeting someone because they are a police officer.
Other factors are how many people the defendant is accused of murdering, if the murder was committed alongside a robbery, or if the defendant is also accused of sexually assaulting the victim before or after killing them. Some states also consider the modality of killing. If the murder suspect used torturous or heinous means to take a life, that is likely to carry a first-degree or capital murder charge.
A second-degree murder charge is when the suspect killed another person with malice. There has to be clear evidence that they killed someone with the intention to and without just cause or reason. The difference in second-degree murder charges is that the accused didn’t show premeditation or kill someone deliberately.
Felony murder is a charge ascribed to people who kill someone in the process of committing a felony. Typically that means that the person did not intend to kill anyone — it is just that their act didn’t go as planned and someone accidentally got killed. The killing in these types of murder charges are just a consequence of the felony that was committed.
An example of a felony murder charge would be if someone was robbing a grocery store, and someone else had a heart attack triggered by fear. The person who was committing the felony might be liable for felony murder. If the felony were not initiated, the victim would not have died. Therefore, it might make the felon liable for murder.
Since the type of murder charges you are charged with significantly affect your punishment, it is imperative that you understand the severity of the charges so that you can help your lawyer build a healthy defense. In some states, capital or first-degree murder can carry with it a death sentence, which is why knowing the difference between first, second and felony murder is so important to building your defensive strategy.