Being charged with a crime in Philadelphia can make even the strongest of people feel as if their world is collapsing. Wimmer Criminal Defense, the preeminent criminal defense law firm in Philadelphia, has put together the below guide to help you become acquainted with some of the terms you may hear as you navigate the…
Murder and Manslaughter Defense
Murder and manslaughter defense requires experience and legal expertise. When you are charged with taking another person’s life, you face some of the most serious legal consequences that exist in Pennsylvania. Due to the severity of the act, people in Pennsylvania who are charged with criminal homicide, murder or manslaughter will face an experienced, strategic, and aggressive prosecutor. Potential formal and informal penalties can endanger your reputation, freedom, and life. It is strongly recommended that you get an experienced and aggressive murder and manslaughter defense attorney involved on your behalf as early in a murder case as possible.
The Tiers of Murder Charges in Pennsylvania and the Associated Penalties
The most serious murder charge in the Commonwealth is first-degree murder. First-degree murder is charged when the prosecutor believes that someone was killed intentionally. Typically, an intentional act is one where the defendant knew or was virtually certain that their actions would bring about a certain result. Usually, police and prosecutors claim that first-degree murders are “premeditated.” Premeditated means that the person thought about the action before they acted. For instance, a person who plans to ambush and kill an enemy on a certain date, and actually does it, “premeditated” the killing.
Second-degree murder charges arise when a person is committing another crime, and another person is killed. Under the “felony-murder rule,” a person who is engaged in the following crimes can face second-degree murder charges when another person is killed:
All other forms of murder are classified as third-degree murder. However, even third-degree murder is a felony of the first degree in Pennsylvania.
Manslaughter and Involuntary Manslaughter
Any illegal killing that doesn’t qualify as murder, is usually charged as “manslaughter.” In Pennsylvania, the legal definition of manslaughter is centered around the killing of another human being “without legal justification.” Depending on the facts and circumstances surrounding the killing, a prosecutor can charge either “voluntary” or “involuntary” manslaughter charges.
Voluntary manslaughter is an unlawful killing where the actor faced “a sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation.” This “provocation” is usually defined as something that would cause the average person to become impassioned, where there is no time to “cool down.” If a killing that would otherwise be murder has an element of provocation, a defense attorney may be able to get the charges reduced to manslaughter. This can save defendants from extra prison time, if it works out.
Involuntary manslaughter is when a person causes another person’s death by acting in a reckless or grossly negligent way. Whether what the actor was doing was legal or not, if it causes death, it could be grounds for an involuntary manslaughter charge. It is important to note the difference in mental state required for involuntary manslaughter. Murders are intentional killings and voluntary manslaughter requires intense passion. Involuntary manslaughter, on the other hand, only requires the actor to be reckless or grossly negligent – a much lower threshold than the other types of killing.
The penalties for murder are most often life imprisonment or the death sentence. In Pennsylvania, the death penalty is only available for first degree murder cases and is barred in cases of murder of an unborn child. Any other murder automatically requires a life sentence, unless committed by a juvenile. Attempted murder is punished by at least 40 years in prison.
Voluntary manslaughter is a first degree felony – the highest classification of crime in Pennsylvania, besides murder. This is punished by up to 20 years in prison and fines up to $25,000. Involuntary manslaughter, due to its lower intent requirements, is a much lighter offense. It is classified as a misdemeanor of the first degree. This is punishable by up to five years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. If the victim was under 12 and in the care of the actor, then the crime becomes a second degree felony with up to 10 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines.
Drug Deliveries Resulting in Death Can Also Result in Criminal Homicide Charges in Pennsylvania
First-degree felony charges can also result when a person “…intentionally administers, dispenses, delivers, gives, prescribes, sells or distributes any controlled substance or counterfeit controlled substance…” and a death results due to the drug use. For instance, if a person sells heroin to another person, and the heroin kills them, murder charges might be appropriate. Even if the drug is fake, if they claim it to be a real drug and it causes death, the seller could be charged with murder.
Rely on the Experience of a Former Clerk in Philadelphia Homicide Court
If you are accused of murder, you need a murder and manslaughter defense attorney who can craft an aggressive strategy that will force the prosecution to work for a conviction. In a criminal case, the prosecution must carry the burden of proving each element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Years working alongside judges in murder cases have allowed Lauren Wimmer to gain intimate knowledge of what arguments work – and what arguments don’t.
There are also certain defenses that your attorney can raise in a murder case known as ‘affirmative defenses’. Affirmative defenses allow a defendant to admit to the killing, but avoid the punishment because of lack of capacity, voluntary intoxication, or self defense. 18 Pa.C.S. § 505 protects people who commit a crime while defending themselves, including murder.
If you are accused of committing extremely serious crimes like murder or manslaughter, you face the potential penalty of a lengthy prison sentence. Aside from the potential formal consequences of a felony conviction, individuals can also face the informal consequences that accompany a felony conviction, including social stigmas, lack of job opportunities, and ineligibility for education or loans. Contact Wimmer Criminal Defense or call for a free consultation at 215-712-1212 to discuss the unique facts in your case and the aggressive steps we will take to reduce the charges you actually face as well as the associated consequences.
If You’ve Been Charged with Murder, You Need Immediate and Aggressive Representation
If you are facing criminal charges as serious as murder or manslaughter, you need legal representation that is experienced in murder cases and capable of fighting your case at trial, if necessary.