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The difference between first-degree and second-degree murder

On Behalf of | May 1, 2022 | Violent Crimes |

Actions that lead to or cause another person to die typically lead to felony charges in California. Depending on the details of the offense, a defendant could face one of two especially serious felony charges: first-degree or second-degree murder.

Any murder charge is a serious matter requiring your immediate attention. The first step is understanding the murder charge filed against you. The following sections explain the difference between first-degree and second-degree murder.

First-degree murder

Murder in the first degree involves premeditation. In other words, the defendant plotted to cause the death of another person in advance, perhaps planning out every step of the offense. If someone dies while the defendant is engaged in the commission of a felony, first-degree murder charges may also be filed, even if they did not directly kill the victim.

The possible penalties for a first-degree murder conviction include:

  • 25 years to life in prison
  • Life in prison without parole
  • A death sentence

Although the death penalty remains a part of the penal code for first-degree murder, capital punishment is currently on pause in California.

Second-degree murder

Murder in the second degree is less severe, as it lacks the element of advance planning. Such a charge may arise if the defendant willfully or intentionally killed another in the “heat of the moment.” The typical penalty for a second-degree murder conviction is a prison sentence of 15 years to life.

If the victim is a peace officer, defendants should expect increased penalties if convicted of murder in the first or second degree.

The information in this post covers only the basics of California murder charges. Learning more about the specific felony charge filed against you helps you work with your legal representative on your defense.

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