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Facing Third-Degree Murder Charges in Philadelphia? What You Need to Know


9/10/2019

While degree murder charges may be the most serious charges you can face, third-degree murder charges are probably the most difficult to understand. If you’ve been charged with third-degree murder, you need to know exactly what you’re facing. Understanding the nature of your charges can help you understand your options and formulate an effective defense.

Wimmer Criminal Defense Law represents people charged with murder in the Philadelphia metro area. Don’t let the prosecution intimidate you into pleading guilty – you need someone on your side who will fight for your rights. Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Lauren Wimmer has the knowledge and experience you need to get a fair result. Call us at 215-712-1212 or contact us online if you would like to schedule a free consultation with Ms. Wimmer and learn more about how we can help you.

The Different Categories of Murder Charges in Philadelphia

Murder charges in Pennsylvania are classified as “criminal homicide” under 18 PSA Section 2502 and can be broken down into five main categories. To better understand the challenges inherent to a third-degree murder charge, it’s important to have a basic understanding of each of these categories.

  • First-degree murder. First-degree murder is an intentional killing. In order to be convicted of first-degree murder, the prosecution has to prove that you had a specific intent to kill. For example, someone who created a plan to kill another person and then carried out the murder could be charged with first-degree murder.
  • Second-degree murder. Second-degree murder is a murder that is committed during the commission of a felony, either as the principal or as an accomplice. For example, the accomplice of a bank robber who kills someone while the robbery is in progress could be charged with second-degree murder.
  • Third-degree murder. Under Pennsylvania law, third-degree murder is rather unhelpfully defined as “all other kinds of murder.” In other words, third-degree murder is charged if the killing was not premeditated or did not happen during the commission of a felony.
  • Voluntary manslaughter. Voluntary manslaughter is when someone kills another person while acting under “a sudden and intense passion” as a result of being provoked. A common example would be a wife who kills her husband when discovering him in bed with his lover. There was no premeditation, and she was not committing another felony when she killed him. It’s also important to note that voluntary manslaughter requires that the killing occurred in the heat of the moment. Voluntary manslaughter can also apply in cases where the person unreasonably believes that the killing is justifiable.
  • Involuntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter is charged when a person kills someone else as a result of an unlawful act, or as a result of acting in a reckless or grossly negligent manner.

Generally speaking, each of these charges is differentiated from the others by the level of intent involved in the killing. As a result, each can carry very different charges even though they are all first degree felonies (except for involuntary manslaughter).

Third-Degree Murder – A Closer Look

If you’ve been charged with third-degree murder, knowing that it applies to “all other kinds of murder” isn’t particularly helpful. As mentioned above, it is not an intentional killing (first-degree murder), and it is not a killing that occurred while committing a felony (second-degree murder).

That said, third-degree murder is committed with ill will or “malice.” Malice is a legal term that means much more than simply dislike or hate. Instead, it describes a “wrongful act done intentionally, without just cause or excuse.” An intentional killing obviously involves malice, but how is malice a factor in an unintentional killing?

Perhaps the easiest way to explain the relationship between malice and third-degree murder is to use an example. Third-degree murder is often charged in drug overdose cases – the person who sold the drugs to the person who overdosed is accused of third-degree murder:

  • They didn’t intend to kill the person who overdosed;
  • They didn’t dislike or hate the person who overdosed; but
  • They were knowingly and intentionally engaged in a wrongful act that resulted in the other person’s death.

How is Third-degree Murder Different from Manslaughter?

Since manslaughter charges also involve an unintentional killing, it can be quite confusing to distinguish how third-degree murder is different. Again, it’s helpful to focus closely on how these crimes are defined by the statute.

Voluntary manslaughter is a murder that occurs in the heat of the moment as the result of extreme provocation. In a way, voluntary manslaughter is an intentional killing but is recognized as an exception due to the extreme emotions involved. Using the drug overdose example from above, you can see how third-degree murder is different – it is in no way intentional.

Third-degree murder is closest to involuntary manslaughter. Both involve unintentional killings that occur while committing a crime or otherwise engaged in reckless or grossly negligent behavior. As a result, it can be very difficult to distinguish third-degree murder from involuntary manslaughter in certain circumstances.

Should You Have Been Charged with Involuntary Manslaughter Instead of Third-degree Murder?

This is a difficult question that doesn’t always have a clear answer. Prosecutors often decide which charges to file based on how they think the crime will be perceived by the public. They also tend to “overcharge” by charging you with a more serious crime with the intent of persuading you to accept a plea agreement for a less serious crime.

An experienced criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia can evaluate the charges against you and help you understand your options.

The Potential Consequences of a Third-degree Murder Conviction

Third-degree murder is a first-degree felony, and therefore one of the most serious criminal charges you can face. If convicted, you could face up to 20 years in prison. In addition, you will also have to deal with the lifelong stigma of being a convicted felon.

Involuntary manslaughter, on the other hand, is a first-degree misdemeanor, which carries a potential sentence of up to 5 years in prison. If you’ve been charged with third-degree murder, an experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to help you get your charges reduced to involuntary manslaughter.

Contact Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Lauren Wimmer if You’ve Been Charged with Third-degree Murder

A conviction for third-degree murder could change your life forever, but you can take action to protect yourself. Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Lauren Wimmer can provide you with aggressive, personalized legal representation to make sure you get a fair result. If you’d like to schedule a free consultation, contact Wimmer Criminal Defense Law at 215-712-1212 to learn more about how we can help you.