In the criminal justice system, murder is one of the most serious charges. A type of homicide, murder is the intentional, often premeditated taking of a human life without justification or excuse. Murder convictions often bring life in prison or the death penalty.
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Murder charges are broken up into two classes, or degrees.:
First-degree murder: Defined in most states as an unlawful killing that was premeditated and planned. Most states also follow the “felony murder rule,” which means a person commits first-degree murder if a death is the result of a violent felony, including arson, burglary, kidnapping, rape and robbery.
Second-degree murder: Defined as an intentional killing that is not premeditated, planned or committed in a “heat of passion.” The crime is also considered second-degree murder if the killing was the result of a dangerous action, and there was a lack of concern for life. Typically second-degree murder is considered the charge between first-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.
Punishment for murder typically carries a long prison sentence. Sentences may include a stipulation of no parole, or that a majority of the sentence must be served before parole is considered. In states that have capital punishment, it is normally reserved for the most heinous crimes, including murder.
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The above summary of murder is by no means all-inclusive and is not legal advice. For the latest information on murder laws and penalties, speak to a criminal defense attorney in your area.