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

On Behalf of | Sep 13, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

If your actions contribute to the death of another person, Tennessee prosecutors might decide to charge you with a homicide offense. There are different kinds of homicide for different scenarios. For example, a death that results from a violent act in a moment of temporary insanity would be voluntary manslaughter, while a death that resulted from a drunk driving incident might be vehicular homicide.

When the police or state prosecutors believe that the death was not a tragic consequence of bad behavior but the intended result, they will charge someone with murder. Murder charges come with major penalties and lifelong, secondary social consequences.

When the state charges someone with murder, prosecutors must determine whether they have the evidence to charge someone with murder in the first degree or if it was a case of murder in the second degree. What is the difference between the two degrees of murder?

Premeditation determines the nature of the offense

Murder in the first degree is the most serious kind of homicide. It involves not just intentionally causing someone’s death but planning ahead of time to kill them. The state may be able to prove premeditation if they can show that someone purchased a weapon after a previous altercation, if they talked about their plans with others or if they researched state laws on their computer before the incident occurred.

When a death is the result of an emotional breakdown in the heat of passion, then the state might charge someone with second-degree murder. Those who sell or give drugs to others, leading to a fatality, could also face second-degree murder charges. While still a serious offense that could mean up to 60 years in prison as a Class A felony, it does not imply that someone went into a situation intending to cause the death of someone else.

More serious charges come with a higher burden of proof

The more serious the charges the state levels against another person after someone dies, the higher the burden of proof on state prosecutors.

If the state intends to charge you with first-degree murder, they need to prove not only that you caused the death of someone else intentionally but also that you planned ahead to do so. They need compelling enough evidence to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

Depending on the evidence of the circumstances, there may be numerous ways for someone facing murder charges to defend themselves and protect their freedom.


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