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2nd Degree Murder Laws & Charges

June 25, 2020 Federal Criminal Attorneys

Criminal charges can take many forms. A person may charged with crimes ranging from littering to voluntary manslaughter. Murder is one of the single most serious charges a person can face from the legal system. Like many other types of criminal charges, murder is divided into several subcategories. One type of murder charge is what is known as second degree murder. While different jurisdictions define this crime in varied ways, in general this kind of charge means the person is being accused of killing someone. However, unlike first degree murder, the charge of second degree murder means that the killing was not intentional. This is a less serious charge than that of first degree murder. It is, however, a more serious charge than manslaughter. If someone is found guilty of this charge, they can expect a penalty phase where jurors or a judge will determine the sentence for this conviction.

A second degree murder charge indicates that the person killed someone without planning to do so. However, it also indicates the person is believed to have shown what is known as extreme indifference to bodily harm when it comes to someone else. A person may be charged with this kind of crime if they get to an argument with a neighbor. If one party grabs a gun and suddenly shoots the other party, this can be considered a second degree murder. The same is true if that person picks up a shovel instead of a gun. Hitting the other person over the head was not done to kill them. However, if the person dies, this indicates the person hitting the other person showed a lack of consideration for the health and well being of another person. If that same person merely shot the gun in the air but it actually hit someone and caused them to die, they can be charged with this form of murder.

Varied Factors

Many factors will determine the kind of sentence a defendant is given once convicted. A judge or jury must consider the actual language as written in law in that jurisdiction. These laws may set forth the kind of penalty the defendant can expect. These are not the only factors that determine what happens once the penalty is pronounced. All those involved can take what are known as mitigating factors into account. Mitigating factors are factors such as the circumstances under which the crime took place. They also include the defendant’s prior history. They may take into account factors such as the defendant’s educational history, their personal background and the nature of the crime. They can also consider issues such as the involvement of others in the crime and if the person has been involved in other crimes or has a totally innocent record before the crime took place. A defendant who who shows remorse or has issues with mental health may also receive a lighter sentence.

Vague Language

One of the issues that surrounds this charge is that the language used to describe what penalties may be imposed in the aftermath of the crime can be vague. The federal statue that governs those convicted of murder in the second degree in federal courts states people can imprisoned for an indeterminate number of years. As such, this allows a judge to decide exactly what is going to happen to the convicted person. Federal judges must use what are known as federal sentencing guidelines when imposing a penalty for second degree murder. The same is true in other types of jurisdictions. Many states have specific guidelines that apply in highly specialized circumstances. The California penal code, for example, mandates certain penalties if someone is convicted of second degree murder when shooting a firearm from a car or killing a peace officer.

In addition to considering mitigating factors, a judge or juror can also take into account what are known as aggravating factors when deciding what kind of sentence to give someone. If the second degree murder charge is deemed particularly brutal or cruel or is the result of what is known as a hate crime, the defendant may be facing additional penalties in the form of increased years in prison.

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