Cases involving criminal homicide are not all the same, even though “homicide” tends to lump many offenses together. Murder is an extremely serious charge and manslaughter, although very severe, is a somewhat lesser charge compared to murder.
Murder involves intentional killing. Exactly how the murder occurred, the defendant’s alleged role in the offense, and the intent behind the act will determine the degree of the charges. Manslaughter also involves killing another person, but in many cases, the defendant did not intend to kill anyone and did so negligently. The case details may determine if the charges are for voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. The elements of manslaughter and murder are very different, so it only makes sense that these offenses carry different penalties and require different legal strategies to defend yourself.
If you are facing charges of murder or manslaughter, you need to talk to a lawyer immediately. These charges carry very high penalties, and there may be a lot at stake in your case. Schedule a free case review at The Law Offices of Lloyd Long by calling (215) 302-0171.
What Constitutes Murder in Pennsylvania
The offense of murder can be found under 18 Pa.C.S. § 2502 and is broken down into three subcategories of murder. There is murder in the first degree, perhaps the most serious criminal offense possible. Next is murder in the second degree, and finally, murder in the third degree. If you or a loved one is facing potential murder charges, downgrading the charges even by one degree could be the difference between life and life with the possibility of parole. Our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers can help you understand these charges.
Murder in the first degree is arguably the highest and most severe criminal offense on the books. Under the law, it is an intentional, premeditated killing. The element of premeditation is crucial as it shows the defendant had time to think about and plan the murder. In many cases, premeditation takes only a few moments, while in others, it might take considerable time. Murder in the first degree is a first-degree felony.
Murder in the second degree is a step-down but still an extremely serious offense. To be charged, the defendant must allegedly commit a killing while engaged as a principal actor or accomplice in a felony. In many jurisdictions, this is known as “felony murder” and is also charged as a first-degree felony.
Murder in the third degree is a somewhat lesser charge that encompasses all forms of murder that do not fall into one of the above two categories. It typically includes murder that was not premeditated or committed during a felony. It is also a first-degree felony.
What is Manslaughter in Pennsylvania?
Manslaughter is a form of homicide that may or may not be charged less severely than murder, depending on the situation. Manslaughter may be voluntary or involuntary, and the difference between these charges is significant. While voluntary manslaughter is charged as a first-degree felony, involuntary manslaughter might be a lesser second-degree felony.
The charge of voluntary manslaughter is listed under 18 Pa.C.S. § 2503 and may be assessed in several different situations. First, you can be charged with voluntary manslaughter if you allegedly killed someone without legal justification while under the sudden and intense passion from “provocation.” Provocation is generally regarded as something that would cause a reaction from a reasonable person. Usually, provocation is fairly serious. Minor offenses like name-calling or petty threats are not considered a sufficient provocation. You must have been provoked into action by either the person killed or someone else you meant to kill, only to accidentally or negligently kill the victim. This may be a defense to murder charges. We can negate the requisite intent and premeditation of murder charges by establishing the existence of sufficient provocation. Our Bucks County criminal defense lawyers can work to downgrade your charges to voluntary manslaughter.
You can also be charged with voluntary manslaughter if you believed you had a justification for your actions (e.g., self-defense), but your belief was unreasonable. Justifications for homicide offenses are often tricky and difficult to argue, but one of the most important elements of a justification is that it is reasonable. Unreasonable beliefs that you need to use deadly force can lead to voluntary manslaughter charges. This is often known as imperfect self-defense, as it is not a full justification for the alleged crime but may help you reduce your charges.
Involuntary manslaughter is a killing that results from the defendant’s negligent behavior. Generally, defendants charged with involuntary manslaughter did not have any intention to kill the victim. Instead, the victim was killed as a result of an accident.
Under 18 Pa.C.S. § 2504, involuntary manslaughter may be charged if, as a direct result of a lawful or unlawful act conducted in a grossly negligent or reckless manner, the defendant causes the death of another person. You do not necessarily have to be engaged in illegal behavior to be charged with involuntary manslaughter.
The offense often arises when people do ordinary, albeit dangerous, activities recklessly or negligently. This offense can be charged as a second-degree felony. Common examples of involuntary manslaughter include accidentally shooting someone while cleaning a gun or providing someone with drugs they didn’t know were laced with fentanyl, causing a lethal overdose.
How to Challenge Charges for Murder and Manslaughter in Pennsylvania
The distinctions between murder and manslaughter charges are extremely important because they determine how our Pennsylvania criminal defense lawyers can challenge the case against you. Each offense has unique criminal elements that we can challenge as part of your defense, depending on your situation. Contact our Delaware County criminal defense lawyers to develop defense tactics in your case.
If you are charged with a form of murder, we can challenge your case based on intent. As mentioned earlier, crucial elements of murder are the intent to kill and premeditation. We can fight your charges if we show that you did not have the time or the right state of mind to form the requisite intent to kill. Similarly, if the killing was accidental, we can argue that lesser charges are more appropriate.
If you are charged with manslaughter, we can attack your case on two fronts. First, if you are charged with murder, we can work to downgrade your charges to manslaughter by using the imperfect self-defense rule. If you believed your actions were justified, but the court disagrees, we can argue that your belief in your justification was held in good faith but unreasonable. Second, we can argue that your actions were based on a reasonable response to intense provocation from the victim. Alternatively, if you believe your actions were truly justified, we can claim self-defense and move to have your charges dropped or dismissed.
The best way to mount your defense depends on the details of your case. You can talk to our Northeast Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers about which defense works best with your situation.
Call Our Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorneys About Your Case
If you or someone close to you is charged with a homicide offense, our Pennsylvania criminal defense attorneys can help you. For a free case evaluation, call The Law Offices of Lloyd Long by calling (215) 302-0171.