A homicide charge is incredibly serious, regardless of the circumstances. These circumstances, however, are what will decide the nature of the charges themselves. Some are more serious and have greater penalties. Knowing the different types of homicide charges in the state of Pennsylvania will help you better understand how to build your defense. State law has identified and defined criminal homicide as three distinct categories.
First-degree murder means that the killing was intentional. This includes premeditated murder, such as waiting for the right moment or knowingly acting in a way that will result in death later on (poison is an example). This is the most serious charge. It can result in the death penalty or life imprisonment with no chance for parole.
Second-degree murder is when someone dies when another criminal act is being committed such as burglary, rape, kidnapping, or arson. This will extend to an accomplice to the original crime. The penalty is life in prison with no parole.
Any other type of murder falls under the third degree. The penalty is up to twenty years in prison.
The court must be able to determine whether or not the murder was voluntary or involuntary. Voluntary manslaughter is defined as killing with no legal justification, or killing when you believe you had justification but none could be found by the evidence presented. Voluntary manslaughter includes acts in the heat of passion, such as provocation. It is a first-degree felony and carries a sentence of up to twenty years in prison.
To be considered involuntary, the murder must occur as a result of negligence during another illegal activity. The difference between this and second-degree murder is that second-degree murder requires it to happen during the original criminal act, whereas involuntary is a result of reckless behavior during the original criminal act. A common example of this is vehicular manslaughter as a result of driving under the influence. Involuntary is a first-degree misdemeanor and carries a sentence of up to five years in prison. A misdemeanor differs from a felony in that it is considered less serious and has a smaller fine or penalty.
If you have been charged with homicide you should immediately seek legal counsel. Understanding these laws can be confusing and it’s crucial that you have a knowledgeable professional on your side. If you need a Bucks County criminal defense attorney contact our office. As PA homicide lawyers we will do our best to represent you to ensure a fair trial.