U.S. Homicide Laws Have Roots in English Common Law
Current homicide laws in the United States have significant roots in English common law; homicide was defined by Sir William Blackstone, an Oxford professor, as “justifiable, excusable, or felonious.” Justifiable homicide meant the killing of another person was not considered a criminal act, because there was no “guilt” involved. An excusable homicide was also not considered a criminal act because it included minimal guilt. A felonious homicide was considered a criminal act, as the most heinous offense currently known to man.
Under English common law, every felonious (criminal) homicide was punished by death, however as our own laws evolved, criminal homicide was further divided into murder and manslaughter. These distinctions were based on the defendant’s intent—murder contained the element of malice aforethought while manslaughter was an unlawful killing, without malice or premeditation involved. Murder is further divided into first degree, second degree and third degree
Criminal Homicide in Pennsylvania
In the state of Pennsylvania, you can be charged with criminal homicide when you recklessly, knowingly, negligently or intentionally kill another human being. Your exact charges will depend heavily on the specific circumstances, as well as the facts, surrounding your case. If it is believed you intentionally killed another human being, you may face murder charges. If that murder is judged to have occurred in a premeditated, malicious manner, you could face the most serious charge under Pennsylvania law—first-degree murder. A first-degree murder conviction can bring a mandatory life sentence without parole, or even the death penalty.
If the death of another person occurs while you are in the process of committing a felony offense (arson, kidnapping, robbery, burglary, rape), you could be charged with second-degree murder, whether you had any intention of causing a death, and even if you were only an accomplice to the felony crime. A second-degree murder conviction carries a sentence of life with no possibility of parole. Finally, third-degree murder is a charge only found in Pennsylvania and two other states—Florida and Minnesota. At one point in time, New Mexico had five degrees of murder, but no longer. According to Pennsylvania homicide statutes, third-degree murder is “all other kinds of murder,” and is punishable by up to twenty years in prison.
Voluntary and Involuntary Manslaughter
If the taking of another life does not meet the legal criteria for murder, Pennsylvania homicide also includes voluntary manslaughter—when a person is killed with no legal justification, however it is believed you acted in the heat of the moment or suffered provocation by the person killed. If you believe the act of killing another person is justified, however that belief turns out to be unreasonable, you could also be charged with voluntary manslaughter. If you are convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the state of Pennsylvania, you could be sentenced to up to twenty years imprisonment—the same as for third-degree murder.
When the death of a human being is the result of a reckless or grossly negligent act, then the charges could be involuntary manslaughter. (In some instances, involuntary manslaughter could occur while you were performing a legal act in a grossly negligent or reckless manner). There is no intent to kill under involuntary manslaughter laws, which simply penalizes unintentional killings with an intent of preventing and punishing activities which occur with disregard for human life. Gross negligence or recklessness is determined by comparing established standards of care which a reasonable person would follow. A person who drives while intoxicated (an illegal act) who kills another person could be charged with involuntary manslaughter, which carries a penalty of up to five years in jail.
Strong Defense When facing Pennsylvania Murder Charges
When you or a loved one is facing homicide and murder allegations or charges, gain the benefit and experience of the Ciccarelli Legal Team. Lee Ciccarelli bring years of experience defending clients, demanding justice and fighting for acquittals. Our team is ready to represent you when you are facing homicide and murder charges in Pennsylvania. We are based in based in suburban Philadelphia and serve clients throughout Pennsylvania. Contact us at (610) 692-8700.