Second Degree Murder


Second-Degree Murder is defined as an intentional killing that is not premeditated or planned, nor committed in a reasonable “heat of passion” or a killing caused by dangerous conduct and the offender’s obvious lack of concern for human life. Second-degree murder may best be viewed as the middle ground between first-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, a judge can increase a second degree murder sentence if the defendants conduct was exceptionally heinous, cruel, brutal, or degrading to the victim if the crime constituted a hate crime, and if the defendant used a firearm in the commission of the crime.

What separates the essential elements of second-degree and first-degree murder is the perpetrators mental state at the time of the killing. The criminal act for both crimes is the same: both are killings of another person.

First degree murder involves a premeditated killing. The killer planned to kill the victim and then did. Second degree murder does not require premeditation. Three typical situations constitute second degree murder:

  • A killing done impulsively without premeditation, but with malice aforethought

  • A killing that results from an act intended to cause serious bodily harm

  • A killing that results from an act that demonstrates the perpetrators depraved indifference to human life in which the killer had an utter disregard for the potential damage that their actions could cause

There are several defenses that could apply to a second degree murder charge. Most defendants assert their innocence. Other defendants admit to killing the victim, but claim some sort of justification. Attorneys call these types of defenses affirmative defenses.  The insanity defense is often used as well as other defenses such as self defense or intoxication, may it be voluntary or involuntary.

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