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Second Degree Murder

Key Takeaways:

  • Second-degree murder is an unplanned homicide caused by reckless actions that could lead to the victim's death.
  • Less severe than first-degree murder, second-degree murder is still a serious crime with penalties that could include life imprisonment.
  • Self-defense or defense of others are legal defenses to murder charges.

Criminal homicide is the unlawful killing of another person. The difference between first-degree and second-degree murder has to do with premeditation. Second-degree murder doesn’t require malice aforethought. In some states, any murder that doesn’t qualify as first-degree is charged as second-degree.

Second-degree murder is a serious charge that can have severe consequences. Sentencing can depend on state laws. To build your defense, you’ll need to understand the elements of your charge and your legal options. If someone accuses you of homicide, contact a second-degree murder criminal defense attorney for help.

What Is Second-Degree Murder?

Generally, second-degree murder is an unplanned homicide caused by actions you knew or should have known could lead to the victim’s death.

Getting into a sudden fight and battering a person to death could be an example of second-degree murder. You may not have planned to get into a fight. However, if you should have known your attacks could be deadly, it may be second-degree murder.

The difference between first and second-degree is the mental state or mens rea. Even if you didn’t have the intent to take a human life, extreme indifference to serious bodily harm is enough to hold you accountable for the death of another person.

What Are Other Homicide Charges?

First-degree murder is usually a premeditated murder or intentional killing. Killing a law enforcement officer can also be first-degree murder. This requires the specific intent to kill a human being.

homicide that happened during a robbery or other crime is felony murder. In some states, felony murder is also charged as first-degree murder. In other states, it may be second-degree murder.

Involuntary manslaughter is a lesser charge that may come from an accidental killing. For example, getting into a fatal car accident while driving under the influence (DUI) could be vehicular manslaughter.

A less common charge is “heat of passion” killing. For example, you stumbled upon your partner having an affair and kill the other person. This can be voluntary manslaughter or act as a mitigating factor to murder charges.

What Happens During a Second-Degree Murder Trial?

Different state courts and federal courts have different processes for conducting murder trials. Most types of second-degree murder cases are tried in state court. The district attorney will prosecute the case on behalf of the state. The state is the plaintiff, and the accused is the defendant.

The prosecutor produces evidence (like camera footage), eyewitness testimony, and physical evidence. Your defense attorney will respond and address the evidence presented. Your attorney can also introduce evidence that tends to show your innocence. In rare cases, you may decide to testify on your own behalf.

You have the right to a trial by a jury of your peers. In some cases, you can opt for a bench trial. In a bench trial, a judge decides the verdict. The prosecutor must prove all elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. If there is any doubt about any of the elements, you should not be found guilty.

What Are the Penalties for a Second-Degree Murder Conviction?

The minimum and maximum penalties for a second-degree murder conviction vary by jurisdiction. First-degree murder can carry the death penalty or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. For second-degree murder, the penalties generally range from 10 to 50 years or more in prison.

For example, the sentencing range for second-degree murder charges in California is from 15 years to life imprisonment. In Minnesota, the maximum sentence for second-degree murder is 40 years in prison.

The severity of your sentence will depend on aggravating and mitigating factors. Mitigating elements could lessen your sentence. Common mitigating factors include:

  • No prior criminal record
  • Having a verifiable mental illness
  • Showing genuine remorse

Aggravating factors could increase your sentence. Common aggravating factors include:

  • Committing second-degree murder as a hate crime
  • Using exceptional brutality in the murder
  • Using a deadly weapon or firearm

In some cases, first-degree murder could be reduced to second-degree as part of a plea deal.

Are There Defenses to Murder Charges?

If you are charged with a violent crime, the police officers may not believe you when you say you’re innocent. You don’t have to convince the police, but you do have to convince the jury. Your criminal defense lawyer will build a strong legal defense. Possible criminal defenses include:

  • Mistaken identity
  • You have an alibi
  • Self-defense

If you are accused of murder or manslaughter, talk to an experienced homicide criminal law attorney. Your attorney can represent you in any interactions with the police and defend your rights in court.

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