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What Is Second Degree Murder?

Second degree murder refers to the non-premeditated killing of another person.
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  • Written By: Vanessa Harvey
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 26 March 2014
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Second degree murder, sometimes referred to as murder two, is defined the in the United States as non-premeditated killing of another person. That killing might or might not involve malice or ill will in the one who committed the homicide. If someone is killed as a result of another person's dangerous conduct or is killed in what is commonly referred to as a "heat of passion," a prosecuting attorney might charge the defendant with murder in the second degree, a crime that can carry a life sentence in a state penitentiary.

There are numerous forms of conduct and situations in which someone might end up being killed. Each one has to be evaluated to determine the degree of the charge that the defendant will face in court. If someone fires a gun in a public place, for example, and his or her actions end up causing the death of someone, he or she could be charged with second degree murder. To behave in such a manner reveals unacceptable negligence, dangerous conduct and little or no regard for the safety of the people whose lives were endangered. That person also could be charged with voluntary manslaughter, which is a lesser crime than second degree murder.

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Another scenario that might result in a charge of second degree murder is that of a person catching his or her significant other in infidelity and responding in a jealous rage by killing the unfaithful partner. The most likely charge that such a person would face is one of murder in the second degree, which differs from murder in the first degree in that there is no premeditation on the part of the killer. Many people are of the opinion that the lines separating second degree murder and voluntary manslaughter are too fuzzy, and that the "gray" areas that are considered when charging a defendant can result in injustices because of the different length of sentences that can be pronounced and because the sentences often vary by location.

One of the most important differences between murder in the second degree and murder in the first degree is the penalty to which someone who is convicted can be sentenced. If a defendant is found guilty of first degree murder in a U.S. state that practices capital punishment, he or she could be sentenced to death. The same person would be sentenced to life in prison in states where the death penalty is not practiced.

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Discuss this Article

anon224000
Post 4

I'm a big fan of Michael Jackson and I have this question.

To me, what happened to Michael is second degree murder because Conrad Murray really didn't bother to help Michael when he had the arrest. He delayed the 911 call, performs CPR with one hand on the bed, injected a large amount of propofol and mixed it with other sedatives, and so many more that he didn't take any precautions when administering propofol to Michael. This drug, by the way, isn't supposed to be administered at home at all and can't be used to treat insomnia. That's what Conrad did. This is an obvious lack of concern for human life and dangerous conduct by Conrad, which is second degree murder. There is a lot more.

You should go online and watch the trial for day 14. it explains everything about negligence and how Conrad didn't care to save Michael's life. I need your opinion here. Thank you.

submariner
Post 3

This is an interesting conversation. Is there such thing as third degree murder? I have heard the term before, but I do not know what it would encompass since voluntary manslaughter is so close to second-degree murder. Does anyone know what third degree murder is and what type of sentence it holds? Does it even exist anymore? How does the maximum sentence of third degree murder compare to that of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter? I would be interested to know.

cougars
Post 2

@highlighter- The difference between murder and manslaughter is based on provocation and the state of mind of the person committing the crime. When you define second-degree murder, a major factor is provocation. An unprovoked killing that was not premeditated is second-degree murder.

What makes the line fuzzy between the two is that provocation is subjective to opinion and jurisdiction. In some cases, a person sent into a fit of rage by discovering a cheating spouse will kill in the "heat of the moment". Some courts may find that the infidelity is adequate provocation of the defendant, causing him or her to lose self-control. In this case, the charge would be voluntary manslaughter because the intent to kill is present, but the state of mind was provoked.

Another voluntary manslaughter instance would be if a person was provoked, but the intent to kill was not present (although malice was). A classic example is someone verbally provokes another person who then hits the provoker. The provoker dies from a hard blow to the head. This may be seen as voluntary manslaughter because there was no intent to kill, but there was provocation and the defendant went beyond what is reasonable.

highlighter
Post 1

This was an interesting article. The article stated that many view the line between 2nd degree murder and voluntary manslaughter to be fuzzy, with too much of a gray area. What is the difference between 2nd degree murder and voluntary manslaughter? How significant of a difference is there between the punishment given for the two crimes?

I ask because I have been following a case about a few people who died in a sweat lodge near my mother’s house. The case has gone to trial and I think that the self-help leader is being charged with multiple manslaughter counts. The prosecution is saying that he is responsible for the deaths of the three people who died.

Is the difference between the two crimes based on intent and negligence? Are the sentencing guidelines based on federal government standards?

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