To most people, the word “murder” conjures up the intentional and planned killing of another person. However, the law about what constitutes murder is far more inclusive than those people might realize.

People can find themselves charged with second-degree manslaughter or murder without necessarily having had the intent to end someone’s life. In some situations where police officers or prosecutors believe there is a connection between the actions of one person and the death of another, they might bring second-degree murder charges against the person they consider responsible.

Second-degree murder only applies to two specific situations. When do people face this specific charge under Tennessee law?

Those who sell drugs sometimes face second-degree homicide charges

One of the two specific situations that qualify as second-degree homicide under state law relates to illegal drug trafficking. Those who sell or transfer banned drugs or illegally sell prescription medication to someone could face second-degree murder charges if that person dies because they took those drugs.

Still, only specific drugs can put someone at risk of a second-degree murder charge. Fentanyl or carfentanil, as well as any drug classified as a Schedule I or II substance, can lead to murder charges for a seller if someone dies because they take these drugs.

Domestic abuse can lead to second-degree murder charges as well

Second-degree murder charges are unique because they don’t necessarily involve the intent to cause death, only the decision to take an action that someone realizes could cause a death. Those who sell drugs don’t want to kill their customer base, but the law permits state authorities to hold them accountable if they cause a death.

The same is true for domestic abuse that results in the death of the victim. In a situation involving domestic violence, the intent may not be to cause the death of the other party. Still, if repeat domestic abuse eventually results in the death of the victim, the person responsible for those injuries could face second-degree murder charges.

Second-degree murder is one of the most serious crimes the state can accuse a person of committing. It is a Class A felony that carries between 15 and 16 years of incarceration and fines of as much as $50,000. Anyone facing such serious charges will need to plan carefully for their defense.