What is the difference between first and second-degree murder?

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When people hear that someone is facing murder charges, they often assume that the specifics do not matter. Murder is murder. They assume all murder is the same and carries the same ramifications.

In reality, though, it’s far more nuanced than that. For instance, there is a big difference between first-degree and second-degree murder charges. You need to understand this as you consider your legal options, as it may drastically change how you approach the court case.

What makes it first-degree murder?

States do have slightly different laws regarding levels of murder or types of homicides. California, though, has both first and second-degree murder. For a homicide to be first-degree murder, it must involve issues like:

  • Premeditation
  • Deliberation
  • Deliberate planning
  • Intent to kill

This is something done very intentionally, which the person planned out in advance. The goal the entire time is to take a life and the alleged perpetrator sat down and thought out how they wanted to do it before acting.

How is second-degree murder different?

Second-degree murder is a bit trickier, as it’s sort of a catch-all for any murder that is not first-degree murder. A mindset that includes malice is one of the most important factors.

For instance, someone may not plan the event out in advance, but they may react angrily when a situation arises and then aggressively take a life. Their mindset still shows that they wanted to take that life, even if they did not plan beforehand to do so.

A step below this is manslaughter, which is when a killing takes place but there was no intent to kill. This will often be used when intent and malice are hard to gauge or when the killing was clearly an accident. For instance, striking a cyclist with a car while driving drunk may be manslaughter, but not murder.

Defending yourself in court when facing murder charges at any level

If you’re facing any of these types of charges, you must take them seriously. They can be life-altering, defining your entire future. You need to know what defense options you have as you move closer to a court date.