What’s the Difference Between First-Degree and Second-Degree Murder?

Murderous crimes have the same outcome regardless of the degree: death of the victim. Still, the offense is categorized as murder in the first or second degree based on the details of the case. The severity is determined by the jury, with jurors essentially deciding whether the act was premeditated or spontaneous.

Elements of First-Degree Murder

First-degree murder is the most serious conviction. For a person to be convicted of first-degree murder, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant:

  • Acted with intent to kill or inflict serious harm
  • Acted willfully
  • Planned the murder in advance

Elements of Second-Degree Murder

Second-degree murder is distinguished from first-degree murder because it lacks the element of premeditation. It occurs when someone unlawfully and intentionally kills another, but did not devise a plan to commit the murder. The killing is instead the result of unscheduled willful and purposeful intent to harm another person, or an indifference to human life.

The Difference Between First- and Second-Degree Murder and Manslaughter

Referred to as third-degree murder in some states, manslaughter is a charge distinct from murder in Massachusetts. It could be considered voluntary or involuntary, depending on the facts of the case.

Voluntary Manslaughter Versus Second-Degree Murder

Voluntary manslaughter happens when someone kills another person after a strong provocation. It’s typically a crime of passion and happens as a direct result of some aggravation. In such crimes, the defendant commits the offense before having the time to relax their heightened emotions.

So, like second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter lacks prior planning. However, unlike murder, voluntary manslaughter has an unshakeable emotional component wherein one acts out of uncontrollable rage.

Involuntary Manslaughter Versus Second-Degree Murder

Involuntary manslaughter, on the other hand, happens as a result of negligent or reckless actions of the defendant. Unlike murder, it is unintentional and done unwillingly. Still, as it results in the death of another, it is a serious crime with severe penalties.

If you’ve been accused of first-degree or second-degree murder, or voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, our attorneys can help. Contact Brad Bailey Law to discuss your case today.


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