By District Attorney Ryan Sayers
2023 Vol. 39
Due to the media coverage of last week’s trial, I received a question asking me to explain the different types of homicide in Pennsylvania.
The law of the Commonwealth recognizes five, different types of homicide: first-degree murder, second-degree murder, third-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.
I am going to address the three types of murder this week, and next week will discuss the two types of manslaughter. First-degree murder is the highest degree of murder.
This type of murder is a killing where the defendant has the intent to kill and has malice. Each type of murder has a different type or definition of malice.
For first-degree murder, the malice required is that the killing is willful, deliberate and premeditated. (That last word, premeditated, does not require a long period of planning, but instead can happen in an instant.)
The next type of murder is second-degree murder, which is also known as felony murder.
The reason this is called felony murder is because a death occurs while the defendant was engaged as a principal or an accomplice in committing certain felonies, which includes robbery, rape, arson, burglary or kidnapping.
For this type of murder, the defendant does not have to intend to kill someone. The only thing required for guilt is that a person died as a result of the defendant’s actions during the commission of the felony.
Finally, there is third-degree murder. This is any other type of killing that does not fit under first- or second-degree.
For murder of the third-degree, a killing is with malice if the defendant’s actions show his wanton and willful disregard of an unjustified and extremely high risk that his conduct would result in death or serious bodily injury to another.
In this form of malice, the Commonwealth need not prove that the defendant specifically intended to kill another.
The Commonwealth must prove, however, that the defendant took action while consciously, that is, knowingly, disregarding the most serious risk he was creating, and that, by his disregard of that risk, he demonstrated his extreme indifference to the value of human life.
These are brief descriptions of the three types of murder. The definitions read by the judge at a trial are considerably longer but this gives you an overview of the differences.
Next week, I will talk about the two types of manslaughter and what circumstances would reduce murder to manslaughter.
As always, if you have any questions that you would like answered in this weekly article before the end of the year, please feel free to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ryan Sayers is the elected District Attorney of Clearfield County, Pennsylvania.
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