Difference Between First-Degree Murder and Second-Degree Murder (With Table)

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 often confused for one another. However, these terms cannot be used interchangeably as there are some notable points of difference between them.

First-Degree Murder vs Second-Degree Murder

The difference between first and second-degree murders is that a murder is classified as first-degree murder when it is premeditated, that is, when the killer plotted the crime for a long time before performing it. Second-degree murders, on the other hand, refer to the criminal’s or defendant’s intent toward their victim when they committed the crime. First-degree murder is sometimes known as felony murder, whereas second-degree murder is a death caused by a callous contempt for human existence.

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 offenses, 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 offense 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 offense lighter sentences.

Comparison Table Between First-Degree Murder and Second-Degree Murder

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 usually 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 the 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 to end 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.

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 knowing 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 murders 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.

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 usually 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 also 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 usually more serious than second-degree murders.

Conclusion

Therefore, we can see that homicide and murder are two very different terms with distinct points of contrast between them. The former is a premeditated and wilful killing of an individual. On the other hand, second-degree murder is an intentional but unplanned ending of the life of another individual. Thus there is the idea of malice in the former but not in the latter.

The intent of killing in first-degree murder is usually much stronger as compared to in second-degree the person may act out a reckless heat of the moment with absolute indifference for human existence.  

Both these types of murders have their types and categories. In the court, both are serious crimes, and both have their punishments.

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
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