You may think that a murder is a murder and the person who committed the murder should face the harshest penalties for that act. However, the law has determined the facets of a murder based on its circumstances. These circumstances take into account things like intention and how the act was committed, then give it a designation based on a level of degrees which can range from first-degree to second-degree and may even include third-degree.
The most serious charge for murder is designated as a first-degree murder. This charge is given when it is believed that the defendant has planned and then carried out a murder with an element of malice. It will be up to the prosecuting attorney to prove the defendant had a plan to murder the victim and was aware that their actions would result in a death. A couple of examples of a first-degree murder charge may come when a bomb or a poison were used.
In Tennessee, a felony murder, which is a murder that is committed during the act of a violent felony, can also be classified as a first-degree murder. Tennessee is a capital punishment state, which means a first-degree murder conviction could result in a death sentence.
The designation for second-degree murder is placed on a defendant when it is believed the murder was committed without it being deliberate or premeditated. It may even be clear that the defendant wanted to cause harm to the victim, but there was not an intent to kill.
Many times, a situation arises where the defendant becomes so instantly enraged that only wanting to harm goes beyond what was anticipated and the victim dies. Second-degree murder typically involves jail time and in some serious cases lead to a life sentence.
Often, third-degree murder is referred to as manslaughter. This type of murder can be designated as a time when a murder was committed but there was no plan or even an intent to harm.
Sometimes manslaughter can even be classified as voluntary or involuntary. Examples being that voluntary manslaughter arises if the defendant is suddenly provoked and while, in the midst of anger, causes enough harm to someone that they die. Involuntary manslaughter generally means that the defendant was reckless in their actions and the result caused someone to die.
Pinpointing the differences to each of these types of murders can be written out somewhat easily, but when faced with evidence and questions of intent, finding the correct designation for a particular murder can be difficult.