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Home 9 Violent Crimes 9 Degrees, Penalties, and Definitions of Criminal Homicide in PA

Degrees, Penalties, and Definitions of Criminal Homicide in PA

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Criminal homicide is one of the most serious charges an individual can face under Pennsylvania law. It is a felony offense that carries with it penalties ranging from life imprisonment to death. Criminal homicide includes murder, involuntary manslaughter, and voluntary manslaughter, all involving the unlawful taking of another person’s life.

This blog post will discuss the various degrees, penalties, and definitions associated with criminal homicide in PA. We will also discuss examples of different murder offenses and how they are classified under the law. Facing homicide charges can be a confusing and scary appearance. You don’t have to face it alone. Get in touch with our criminal defense lawyer today to see how we can help with your case.

What Does Criminal Homicide Mean in Pennsylvania?

Criminal homicide in PA is legally defined as intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently taking the life of another human. This definition includes killing through direct action or by using another person to commit the act.

What Are the Classifications of Criminal Homicide Charges in PA?

There are three main classifications of criminal homicide offenses in Pennsylvania:

  • Murder
  • Involuntary manslaughter
  • Voluntary manslaughter

Each of these classifications carries different criminal homicide sentencing in PA.

What Does It Mean To Be Charged With Murder in Pennsylvania?

Being charged with murder in Pennsylvania is the most serious crime in the criminal homicide classifications. A murder charge, regardless of the degree, is considered a felony and carries heavy penalties if convicted.

In the state of Pennsylvania, murder can be defined as intentionally killing another person or causing the death of another person by recklessly engaging in conduct that creates a grave risk of death.

Depending on the circumstances surrounding the case, receiving murder charges may have you facing life in prison or even the death penalty.

Other factors affecting sentencing include premeditation and deliberation, presence or absence of provocation, mental health history, and prior criminal history.

What Are The Different Degrees of Murder Charges in PA?

Pennsylvania has several categories under which you can be charged with murder: first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and third-degree murder. All three degrees differ in sentencing guidelines based on the following:

  • If the person killed was an unborn child or a law enforcement officer
  • If the person committing the crime is over the age of 15 years old at the time of the murder
  • If they are under the age of 15 years old at the time of the murder

First-Degree Murder Charges & Sentencing Guidelines

First-degree murder is considered to be the most serious of criminal homicide charges in PA and usually involves premeditation or setting out to kill another person intentionally.

First-degree murder charges differ from other classifications of murder since the sentencing procedure is slightly longer. Once the jury returns with a first-degree murder charge, it is recorded in a court of law, and before the jury is dismissed, the court must hold a separate sentencing hearing.

In this hearing, the jury will determine if you should receive life in prison or be sentenced to death. During the sentencing hearing, the judge will allow any information regarding the impact of the victim’s death on their family and any mitigating or aggravating circumstances surrounding the first-degree murder charge into evidence for the jury to review.

Second-Degree Murder Charges & Sentencing Guidelines

A second-degree murder conviction may involve reckless conduct in which another person dies without your intent to do so. Second-degree murder occurs when you show extreme indifference toward the victim’s life.

Second-degree murder offenses are committed by recklessly engaging in conduct that puts another life at risk of serious bodily injury or fatality. As a direct result of these actions, you cause the death of another person. The penalty for second-degree murder includes life imprisonment and fines of up to $50,000.

Third-Degree Murder Charges & Sentencing Guidelines

Third-degree murder occurs when you kill another individual unintentionally but are still found to be criminally or grossly negligent. Often, a third-degree murder conviction does not require lawful justification that you set out to kill someone intentionally.

Many times, third-degree murder only requires evidence that you caused the victim’s death due to an extreme indifference for their life while acting recklessly or with malice aforethought. Third-degree murder carries a sentence of up to 40 years in prison with fines of up to $50,000.

Involuntary Manslaughter & Voluntary Manslaughter Charges

chalk outline at the murder scene with evidence markers

Voluntary and involuntary manslaughter charges are still serious crimes in Pennsylvania but do not hold the same weight as other criminal homicide offenses, such as murder in the first-degree or second-degree murder.

However, involuntary and voluntary manslaughter convictions are still considered felonies, which carry significant penalties upon sentencing.

What Is Voluntary Manslaughter in PA?

In Pennsylvania, voluntary manslaughter is an act of homicide that occurs when someone kills another person in the heat of passion or upon serious provocation.

It is generally defined as an intentional killing without prior thought or planning. Voluntary manslaughter can be committed at the moment due to sudden and intense passion, resulting in death.

Two Types of Voluntary Manslaughter

Pennsylvania law recognizes two different types of voluntary manslaughter: crimes based on sudden provocation and those based on imperfect self-defense.

Sudden provocation requires there to have been an adequate level of provocation at the time of the incident. However, it does not require extreme emotional distress from the defendant like some other states might.

Imperfect self-defense occurs when you believe you are at risk for serious bodily harm but use excessive deadly force compared to what was necessary for self-defense. In such circumstances, only a proportional use of force would be considered as legitimate self-defense.

Sentencing Guidelines for Voluntary Manslaughter

Being charged with voluntary manslaughter in Pennsylvania is a first-degree felony. This charge means that you could have a potential sentence of up to 20 years in prison and no more than $25,000 in fines to pay.

What Is Involuntary Manslaughter in PA?

In Pennsylvania, an involuntary manslaughter homicide charge is when you kill another without intent or malice. Generally, the crime requires that your negligence or recklessness caused the death of another person.

For a charge of involuntary manslaughter to be made, the act must have been done with conscious disregard for human life, and you must have acted in a way that likely would result in harm or death.

Two Types of Involuntary Manslaughter

Involuntary manslaughter is further divided into two categories: criminally negligent and grossly negligent.

A criminally negligent crime occurs when you act with a recklessness that disregards society’s expectations for reasonable care and results in death. These types of homicide offenses involve more than just criminal negligence because they require an extreme level of carelessness and occur when you fail to act with the reasonable care that a “prudent and sensible” person would have in similar circumstances.

Grossly negligent crime is the more serious version of criminal negligence. It occurs when your reckless behavior creates an extreme risk or danger to another person, such as driving at excessive speeds or engaging in illegal activities like drug dealing or gang-related activities.

Sentencing Guidelines for Involuntary Manslaughter

Involuntary manslaughter is usually charged as a first-degree misdemeanor under Pennsylvania law. This crime is punishable by up to five years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

However, suppose certain aggravating factors are present, such as whether you committed other crimes alongside involuntary manslaughter. In that case, the charge can be upgraded to a third-degree felony with potential prison sentences of seven years or more.

Trust Marinaro Law When You’re Facing Charges of Criminal Homicide in PA

Being charged with any type of criminal homicide in PA can devastate your life, such as significant jail time and hefty financial penalties upon conviction. If you or someone you love is facing such charges, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you navigate this difficult process. Turn to our law firm at Marinaro Law today and let us help you find the justice you deserve.


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