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Understanding Murder Charges in Pennsylvania

If someone you know has been charged with Murder, it is important you know and understand the charges and what they mean.  In Pennsylvania, there is the general term, Criminal Homicide, which is defined as the intentional, knowing, reckless or negligent causing of the death of another human being.  A defendant may be charged generally with the crime of Criminal Homicide, but it is the specific charge which counts.  There is Murder of the first degree, second degree, third degree, Voluntary Manslaughter and Involuntary Manslaughter.  Each one is different, and the sentencing for each is not the same. 

Murder of the first degree is the most serious crime someone can commit in Pennsylvania because the punishment for a first degree conviction is either Death or mandatory life in prison without parole.  First degree Murder is defined as a criminal homicide when the killing of another human being is intentional.  It is intentional if the killing is by means of poison, or by lying in wait, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate and premeditated killing.  If someone planned to kill another and does so, then it is premeditated.

Murder of the second degree is a criminal homicide when committed while the defendant was engaged as a principal or accomplice in the perpetration of a felony.  This is known as the Felony-Murder rule, and a conviction is punished by mandatory life in prison without parole.  If someone plans to rob a bank or a convenience store and a killing is committed in the course of the robbery, then it is second degree murder.

Murder of the third degree is defined as all other kinds of murder, and is punishable as a felony of the first degree carrying a penalty of ten to twenty years in prison.  If someone shoots another, killing that person, and it wasn't planned or intended or committed in the course of a felony, then it is a third degree murder. 

Voluntary manslaughter is defined as an intentional or knowing killing of an individual without lawful justification, if at the time of the killing the defendant is acting under a sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation by the individual killed or another whom the actor tries to kill but negligently or accidently causes the death of the individual killed.  Voluntary manslaughter is a felony of the first degree, punishable by ten to twenty years in prison.  If someone shoots another because the person so enraged the shooter by his actions, and kills him, it is voluntary manslaughter.

Involuntary manslaughter is defined as when a person, as the result of doing of an unlawful act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner, or the doing of a lawful act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner, causes the death of another.  Involutary manslaughter is a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable by two and one-half to five years in prison.  Driving a car well in excess of the speed limit and causing the death of another is a lawful act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner, and is involuntary manslaughter.

The law is complex and confusing.  You should consult a lawyer with experience and skill handling murder cases.  You and your loved ones deserve the best representation defending the most serious of crimes that can be charged in Pennsylvania.

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