Some Pennsylvanians use the terms “murder” and “homicide” interchangeably. While these terms are also frequently used interchangeably in television crime dramas, they are not synonymous and instead have different legal definitions. Criminal homicide is an umbrella term that includes many different types of offenses, including murder. If you or your loved one is facing any type of homicide offense, you should reach out to an experienced defense lawyer at DiCindio Law for help.
What Is Criminal Homicide?
Criminal homicide includes many actions that cause the death of someone else. Homicide includes premeditated, intentional, reckless, or accidental acts and can also include killings that happen when people act in self-defense. The specific type of homicide offense that you might face will have a drastic impact on the penalties that you might face.
An important distinction exists between criminal homicide and justified homicide. Someone’s death can be considered justified if you kill someone using lethal force that is reasonable under the circumstances to defend yourself or others against the actions of a violent perpetrator when you reasonably believe that he or she is about to use lethal or deadly force against you or the person you protect.
For example, if someone mugs you, points a firearm at your head, and says that he or she is going to shoot you, you would likely be justified in shooting him or her before you can be shot. In this type of scenario, you could argue that you were acting in defense of yourself. The perpetrator violently threatened you both by pointing a gun at your head and saying that he or she was going to shoot you. A reasonable person in this type of situation would also be likely to assume that he or she is at imminent risk of serious bodily injury or death and to act in a similar way. In the real world, however, many cases of self-defense are more complicated than this example.
There are multiple homicide offenses in Pennsylvania, including the following:
- First-degree murder
- Second-degree murder
- Third-degree murder
- Voluntary manslaughter
- Involuntary manslaughter
Murder offenses have the most severe potential penalties out of the various homicide offenses in Pennsylvania.
What Is Murder in Pennsylvania?
Murder is a type of homicide offense and is divided into three degrees in Pennsylvania. To be charged with a murder offense, your actions must have been intentional and willful. Murder is a homicide that is not justified and is an extremely serious felony. The most serious murder offense in Pennsylvania is first-degree murder. All three murder offenses are found in 18 Pa.C.S. § 2502.
In Pennsylvania, first-degree murder carries the most serious potential penalties of any criminal offense. You can be charged with first-degree murder if you deliberately kill someone with premeditation. For example, if you poison someone and kill him or her, you could face first-degree murder charges.
You could also face these types of charges if you lie in wait for your intended victim before deliberately killing him or plan a scheme in advance to kill the victim. First-degree murder can also be charged when people hire assassins to kill others. If you are convicted of first-degree murder, you can face the death penalty or life in prison with no possibility of parole.
Second-degree murder is also known as Pennsylvania’s felony murder rule. You can be charged with this offense when someone’s death results while you are committing another violent felony offense. Even if you did not directly kill the victim but instead acted as an accomplice, you can still be charged with second-degree murder.
The types of violent felonies that can lead to second-degree murder charges when the victim dies to include the following:
For example, if you drove two accomplices to a home so that they could complete a home-invasion burglary, you can be charged with second-degree murder even if you only served as the lookout driver if they kill the homeowner while inside. A second-degree murder conviction can result in a sentence of life in prison.
Any other type of murder offense that does not meet the definition for first- or second-degree murder can be charged as third-degree murder. For example, if you strike a person with your fists with the intention of causing serious injury, but the person dies as a result of his or her injuries, you might be charged with third-degree murder since you did not intend to kill him or her. If you are convicted of third-degree murder, you will face a prison sentence ranging from 10 to 20 years and a fine of up to $25,000.
Other Types of Unjustified Homicides
There are two other types of unjustified homicide offenses in Pennsylvania, including voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.
You can be charged with voluntary manslaughter if you intentionally kill someone else in the heat of passion without prior planning or premeditation. A common example of this type of crime occurs when a spouse walks in to discover his or her spouse in bed with someone else and instantly kills them as a result of extreme emotion. By contrast, if the spouse leaves the home and returns 30 minutes later after buying a gun to kill the spouse and his or her lover, he or she would be charged with first-degree murder because he or she had time to cool off and instead planned to return and kill the pair out of revenge. Voluntary manslaughter is a first-degree felony carrying a potential penalty of 10 to 20 years in prison.
Involuntary manslaughter can be charged when you carelessly or recklessly act in such a way that someone else’s death results. For example, if you speed at 40 miles per hour over the speed limit and cause an accident in which someone is killed, you could be charged with involuntary manslaughter. A conviction for this offense can result in a sentence of two-and-one-half to five years in prison.
Get Help From A Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If you are facing charges for any of the homicide offenses, you should immediately get help from a criminal defense lawyer at DiCindio Law. Call us today for a consultation at (610) 430-3535.