First-Degree vs Second-Degree Murder: Difference and Comparison

First-degree and second-degree murder are related terms. Both of them involve the killing of human beings. Both of them are crimes with their punishments in the court of law.

But being similar terms, they are confused with one another. However, these terms cannot be used interchangeably as there are some notable points of difference between them.

Key Takeaways

  1. First-degree murder is premeditated and deliberate, while second-degree murder is not premeditated.
  2. First-degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence without parole, while second-degree murder carries a life sentence with a chance of parole.
  3. First-degree murder requires the perpetrator to have a specific intent to kill, while second-degree murder may involve intent to harm without specific intent to kill.

First-Degree Murder vs Second-Degree Murder

First-degree murder is the intentional killing of a person by another individual who has acted deliberately and with planning. It is divided into felony murder and premeditated intent to kill. Second-degree murder is an act of murder that is not premeditated but has malicious intent.

First Degree Murder vs Second Degree Murder
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First-degree murder in most courts is an extrajudicial killing. It is both purposeful and planned, meaning it was carried out after thoughtful preparation or “waiting patiently” for the victim.

Most states also use the “felony murder rule,” which stipulates that a person has committed first-degree murder if any fatality (even an unintentional one) occurs by committing certain violent offences, such as arson, burglary, abduction, rape, or robbery.

Second-degree murder is an intentional killing that is not premeditated, is merely intended to do bodily injury, and exhibits a complete disregard for human life.

The precise legal term of this offence will differ depending on the jurisdiction.

While some states do not use the word “second-degree murder,” they almost certainly divide murder into two degrees and give the lighter offence lighter sentences.

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonFirst-Degree MurderSecond-Degree Murder
Meaning Typically, it is negligent homicide or premeditated killing of another individual.An unintentional but deliberate murder or a fatality caused by a disregard for human life.
Planning It is planned and premeditated.It is unplanned.
Types Premeditated Murder, Felony Murder, and Murder of a Law Enforcement Officer.Wilful slaughters Without Premeditation, Intent to Cause Only Serious Bodily Harm, Extreme Indifference to Human Life and also sometimes Felony Murder.
Punishment A man guilty of first-degree murder faces a penalty of 25 years in jail, before becoming free on bail.A sentence of 15 years in jail is imposed.
Severity It is more serious. It is less serious.

What is First-Degree Murder?

In most places, first-degree murder is defined as an illegal homicide that was performed after plotting or “lying in wait” for the victim.

Maliciousness, Deliberation, and Aforethought are the three main factors that must be present in first-degree murders, according to state laws that categorize murders into first, second, and perhaps third degrees.

First-degree murderers must have the precise purpose of ending a person’s existence to be considered intentional. This intention does not have to be the same as the actual person.

First-degree murder is still committed if the killer wants to kill but murders the wrong person or a random person.

First-degree murderers must have acted with intent or “malice aforethought” under several state statutes. Malice is an ill temperament or aim, as well as a disregard for human life.

States have diverse approaches to the idea of “malice.

Particular types of killings are frequently classified as first-degree by state legislation.

The assassination of a child by using excessive force; some killings perpetrated in a pattern of domestic violence; the murder of a law enforcement officer; and homicides performed in the conduct of other crimes such as arson, rape, burglary, or other violent crimes are all examples of these.

first degree murder

What is Second-Degree Murder?

This is described as an intentional killing that is not premeditated, is merely intended to do bodily injury, and exhibits complete disregard for human life.

While the word “second-degree murder” might not be used by some courts, they almost certainly divide murder into two degrees, among which they give the lesser crime lighter sentences.

These types of murders do not necessitate any prior forethought on the part of the perpetrator. The perpetrator means to fatally hurt the victim during the murder even though he had not planned to do so before it.

Second-degree murder is when the criminal wants to cause substantial bodily damage but knows that death may come from the act.

When a victim dies because of the perpetrator’s disregard for the worth of human life, this is the third most common type of second-degree murder known.

In general, severe indifference denotes a complete disdain for the chance that action could result in the death of someone.

Homicides that occur while committing another felony fall under second-degree murder in some states.

It is also worth noting that even without being directly involved with the slaughter, one can get charges of felony murder.

This is a less serious form of homicide.

second degree murder

Main Differences Between First-Degree Murder and Second-Degree Murder

  1. First-degree murder is typical; is negligent homicide or premeditated killing of another individual. On the other hand, second-degree murder is an unintentional but deliberate murder or a fatality caused by a disregard for human life.
  2. First-degree murders are premeditated, unlike second-degree murders.
  3. Premeditated Murder, Felony Murder, and Murder of a Law Enforcement Officer are types of first-degree murder, while Intentional Killings Without Premeditation, Intent to Cause Only Serious Bodily Harm, Extreme Indifference to Human Life, and sometimes Felony Murder are types of second-degree murders.
  4. A man guilty of first-degree murder faces a penalty of 25 years in jail before becoming free on bail, whereas the one guilty of second-degree murder is imposed a sentence of 15 years in jail.
  5. First-degree murders are more serious than second-degree murders.
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References
  1. https://heinonline.org/hol-cgi-bin/get_pdf.cgi?handle=hein.journals/jclc40&section=92
  2. https://heinonline.org/hol-cgi-bin/get_pdf.cgi?handle=hein.journals/scal9&section=19

Last Updated : 30 August, 2023

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