When people quantify or rank criminal charges, misdemeanors are clearly the least significant, while felonies are often more serious both in terms of social stigma and the potential penalties involved. However, there is actually a third tier of criminal charges that can occur in Pennsylvania, and those are capital criminal offenses.
A capital crime is a criminal charge that could potentially carry the risk of the death penalty with a conviction. Pennsylvania is among the states that will still execute those convicted of a capital offense and then sentenced to death. Those facing criminal prosecution for a crime may want to know when a criminal charge can result in the death penalty.
Only murder charges qualify as capital crimes in Pennsylvania
Historically, a variety of criminal offenses have potentially qualified for capital punishment in different states. Under current law in Pennsylvania, only criminal acts that cost someone else their life can qualify for capital punishment.
Many times, the case must have aggravating factors beyond just a homicide before the courts are willing to bring a death penalty case against a defendant, although first-degree murder charges on their own can result in capital punishment. For example, a person who commits murder as a means of eliminating the competition in the local drug market might be more likely to face a capital criminal charge.
Anyone facing capital murder charges could wind up sentenced to death as a result. Having a proactive and thorough criminal defense strategy can help that person avoid conviction or at least reduce their likelihood of facing the death penalty if they do get convicted.