Three Degrees of Murder in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, there are three degrees of murder, which is itself a subset of criminal homicide. The state defines criminal homicide as knowingly, intentionally, recklessly, or negligently causing the unlawful killing of another human. Here is what you need to know about the three degrees of murder in Pennsylvania.

First Degree Murder

Pennsylvania defines murder in the first degree as an intentional killing. This crime involves a premeditated intent to kill another person. This category includes various situations where the perpetrator planned the act while demonstrating willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing. These cases can consist of poisoning, lying in wait, and other actions that demonstrate the clear decision to cause the death of another person.

Criminal penalties for first-degree murder are the most severe, often resulting in life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. In severe cases, such as crimes against law enforcement or murders committed during the commission of another felony, the perpetrator may receive the death penalty.

However, while death penalties are still handed down in Pennsylvania, Gov. Josh Shapiro maintains the formal moratorium on executions put in place by his predecessor, Gov. Tom Wolf, in 2015. Furthermore, the state has not executed a prisoner in a quarter-century.

Second Degree Murder

Second-degree murder, also known as felony murder, generally occurs when the death results from serious bodily harm during the commission or attempt of certain felonies. This can include rape, robbery, or deviate sexual intercourse by force or threat of force, kidnapping, burglary, or arson. The key element differentiating second-degree murder from first-degree murder is the absence of a premeditated intent to kill. Instead, these deaths result from a perpetrator participating in a felony, either as a principal or an accomplice, that ultimately leads to the death of another human.

Second-degree murder charges can result in mandatory life imprisonment. The specific criminal penalties depend on the relationship between the felony act and the death.

Third Degree Murder

Every other type of murder besides those described above falls under the third-degree murder classification. This murder degree covers any murder that does not meet the criteria for a first-degree or second-degree murder. This can include murders that occur in the heat of passion, such as if someone sees their spouse cheating on them and immediately kills them and their lover. There is no premeditated intent to kill or commit another serious felony. The criminal penalties may involve prison sentences of up to 40 years. The specific circumstances surrounding the death will play a critical role in the sentence.

Contact an Experienced Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer

No matter what degree of murder charges you are facing, the criminal penalties are severe. This makes it imperative to have strong legal representation in your corner to fight your charges. You need an experienced Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer early on who can protect your rights and seek the best resolution to your case.

Our aggressive and experienced Philadelphia homicide lawyer at The Zieger Firm has nearly two decades of experience representing individuals across the Philadelphia area who are facing serious criminal charges like murder. Contact us today for a free case review to discuss your case and create a defense that reflects the specific circumstances of your charges.

Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire, is an experienced and successful criminal defense and civil rights attorney. He is a seasoned trial lawyer with significant experience before juries and judges. Brian understands civil rights cases, including Taser, Wrongful Death, Excessive Force, Police Brutality, Police Misconduct, Malicious Prosecution, Monell Claims, Sexual Assault, Prisoner’s Rights, Time Credit, Medical Malpractice, and Medical Indifference.