Difference Between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd-Degree Murder
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Difference Between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd-Degree Murder?

Murder is wrong. I hope you agree with me. So why are there distinctions between the various degrees of murder? Isn’t all murder equally bad?

Not according to our justice system, which has 3 categories of murder: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree murder.

In this article, we are going to analyze the various degrees of murder. We will also examine the consequences of each.

Wondered what makes a murder a 1st or 3rd degree one? Keep on reading.

The Factors That Influence the Decision

Let’s preface this section by saying that only 5 U.S. states contemplate the existence of 3rd degree murder:

  • Florida
  • Pennsylvania
  • Minnesota
  • Wisconsin
  • New Mexico

Every other state only includes the first two degrees of murder in their justice system.

But how do you establish which degree of murder was committed by the killer? There are various factors at play here, let’s see them.


Intent is when the killer actually wants to end a human life.

For example, a husband that gets a divorce notice from his wife and kills her because he refuses to accept the divorce would be an intended homicide. This is the worst-case scenario for the law, and if someone does a murder with intent you can stay sure they won’t get out easily.

Conversely, a drunk driver who runs over someone had no real intent of murdering the person he killed. It’s still murder (actually, it’s a manslaughter), but at least the killer won’t risk a death sentence, and won’t be in jail for as long as the person who intended to kill someone.

Participation also plays a role in intent. If you rob a bank with a partner, and your partner shoots and kills someone, you will be charged with first degree murder even though you didn’t kill the victim.


If you torture someone before killing them, or do them violence such as physical abuse or rape, then you will be charged with first degree murder. There is always intent to kill when such episodes happen.

This is an aggravating factor, so if cruelty happens before a murder the killer is more likely to face the death penalty (where applicable) or an extended time in jail.

There is a case where cruelty isn’t considered> when you were provoked and ended up losing your temper. If someone does something horrible to you, then your behavior will be considered somewhat acceptable. I say somewhat because you will still be charged of manslaughter, which is better than being charged of murder at least!

Accidental Murder

This is mostly relevant to 3rd degree murder. You had no intention to kill someone and you didn’t even touch them, but they died because of your actions.

An example could be a burglar who breaks into an old lady’s house and the lady dies of heart attack because she’s scared.

This is an accidental murder: the burglar didn’t even plan to touch the lady, he just wanted to rob her house, but his actions still caused her death.

The Degrees of Murder

We have established the causes of murder, but what are the actual consequences of each degree? And what factors go into the decision of each murder’s degree?

What about extenuating reasons? No two murders are the same, and the law includes attenuating factors in its considerations.

First-Degree Murder

First-degree murder happens when the murder was made with intent. If there was any planning of killing someone, and the homicide was premeditated, the killer will be charged with it.

Also, if a murder is committed in combination with another felony, it will be first-degree murder, even if there was no intent or violence. For example if you are fleeing from the police after a robbery and run over someone during the escape, then it will be considered first-degree murder, even if it was accidental.

The punishment for first-degree murder can be the death penalty (when contemplated by the state’s laws) or jail for up to 25 years.

A murderer can get charged with first-degree murder, even if the homicide was not planned. Specifically, when the murder is done with particular violence (think of someone who had a psychotic attack).

Also, if you commit another felony with someone and that someone ends up killing a person, you will both be charged with first-degree murder. Choose your partners in crime wisely. Or much better, don’t commit crimes.

Second-Degree Murder

Second-degree murder charges happen when a murder does not satisfy the conditions for first degree murder: intent, violence, and committed in conjunction with another felony.

However, sometimes killing with intent doesn’t result in first-degree murder. Murders committed in the heat of the moment or when emotions take over are sometimes considered as second-degree murders.

Some states also include a different type of crime for these situations: manslaughter. Manslaughter is a much less grave charge than murder, though obviously it’s still not ideal.

People charged with second-degree murder will serve up to 15 years in jail.

Third-Degree Murder

Third-Degree murder is any murder that doesn’t fall in the other two categories. For example, selling illegal drugs to someone who dies as a result of consuming the drugs will get you a charge for third-degree murder.

What’s the Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter?

Some states distinguish between murder and manslaughter, with the latter being less aggravating on the killer. There are two types of manslaughter:

  • Voluntary

Voluntary manslaughter happens when the killing is intended. What makes it different from murder is that the murderer was provoked to the point of causing a strong emotional reaction. Let’s say someone kidnaps your daughter and hits her violently, and you kill the kidnapper.

Your reaction would be somewhat justified, and you won’t be charged of first-degree murder, even though you killed with intent.

Still, don’t think you’ll get out scot-free: most statutes classify voluntary manslaughter as a first-degree felony, which results in fines up to $20.000 and between 3 and 11 years of prison.

  • Involuntary

Involuntary manslaughter happens because of laziness or negligence. For example, if you run with your car into someone else’s and kill them, you will be charged with involuntary manslaughter. You didn’t plan to kill them, but your negligence made you do it.


Murder is a serious offense, and life is so fickle that you might end up committing one even if you didn’t want to.

You don’t need me to tell you killing another human being is wrong and should never ever be considered. However, as you could see from this article, there are situations when it happens. You don’t want to kill someone, but you still might end up doing so.

Did you learn something from this article? If so, share it with your friends!

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