In Pennsylvania, there are several types of homicide for which one may be charged, each being distinguished by the defendant’s state of mind or level of involvement in the crime. Sentencing as well as the defenses to each also differ based on the circumstances of the case.
Criminal homicide refers to the actions of someone who intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or negligently causes the death of another human being. The different types of criminal homicide are first degree murder, second degree murder, third degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.
Murder of the first degree is the most serious of murder charges and is distinguished by its requirement that the killing must have been intentional. It must generally be proven that the defendant premeditated the murder by planning it and deliberately intending to commit it; this can be gleaned by the defendant’s actions such as his or her use of a weapon. First degree murder in Pennsylvania can carry the death penalty or a sentence of life imprisonment.
Murder of the second degree is committed while a defendant was acting as a principal or an accomplice in the commission of a felony when someone was killed – otherwise known as the felony-murder rule. This crime is punishable by a mandatory life sentence without parole.
Murder of the third degree is defined as all other kinds of murder. This crime is punishable by ten to 20 years in prison. Pennsylvania law also distinguishes between murder, which is premeditated and manslaughter, which does not require such malice aforethought. The two types of manslaughter – voluntary and involuntary – and the potential consequences for each will be discussed in a future post.