Category: 

What is First Degree Murder?

Murders that are premeditated and willfully committed, such as mob hits and terrorist attacks, are first degree murders.
Accidentally killing a motorcyclist while driving would be considered manslaughter in most states.
Many nations charge terrorists with murder in the first degree if people are killed during an act of terrorism.
Setting a fire that kills someone can be deemed first degree murder.
In countries with a felony murder rule, someone may be charged with first degree murder if the murder is committed during the commission of a crime like robbery.
Article Details
  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 24 October 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article
Free Widgets for your Site/Blog
In Laos and China, deep-fried scorpion is a popular street food.  more...

November 26 ,  1789 :  Thanksgiving Day was celebrated in the US for the first time.  more...

When someone willfully commits murder and premeditation is involved, he or she may be charged with first degree murder. In many nations, a felony murder rule also allows people to be charged with this crime when a murder is committed during the commission of a violent felony, whether or not the murder was premeditated. Many people consider this form of murder to be the worst, since it suggests an extreme lack of regard for human life.

Most countries distinguish between murder in all of its degrees and manslaughter. A murder is a willful killing, in which someone makes a conscious choice to kill someone else, while a manslaughter is an accidental murder. For example, someone who plans and uses a car to kill someone could be charged with first degree murder, while a driver who accidentally hits a cyclist could be charged with manslaughter. Both acts carry penalties, but the penalty for murder is much more severe.

Premeditation distinguishes first degree from other degrees of murder, because it implies that the murderer was not acting from haste or violent rage, but from a place of cold, calculating hardness. The act of planning the death of another human being is viewed as heinous in many cultures. The plans may vary from poorly thought-out revenge schemes to complex and sometime gruesomely detailed plans to commit murder and get away with it.

In countries with a felony murder rule, someone may be charged with first degree murder if the murder is committed during the commission of a crime like arson, rape, or robbery. Many nations also charge terrorists with murder in the first degree if people are killed during an act of terrorism, such as a bombing or hijacking, or during suspected terrorist activity, like the manufacture of explosives. Contract killings are also classified under this charge. In addition, killing a peace officer may result in the charge, whether or not the act was planned.

In order to successfully prosecute a charge of first degree murder, the prosecution must prove that the accused committed the murder and that some amount of planning was involved. If the prosecution is trying to get a conviction under the felony murder rule, testimony about the felony would be included in the case as well. When a jury or panel of judges is not satisfied with the prosecution's case, the accused may be acquitted or the charges may be downgraded; for example, the jury may return a verdict of guilty in the second degree if they feel that premeditation was not proved.

More from Wisegeek

Discuss this Article

jessiwan
Post 21

The so-called felony "murder" shouldn't really be murder, because the person committing the "main" crime (let's say, armed robbery) never has the intention of killing the victim. Shouldn't it be more accurate to call it, "felony manslaughter"? He didn't plan the killing.

Also, some of you pose the funniest, and most thought-provoking questions.

anon349316
Post 20

A friend committed a homicide back in his country seven years ago. He has lived in the United states for about six years now. He recently found out the police in his country are looking for him. Is there any way he can still be charged here? What can happen to him? He hasn't had any problems in the USA.

anon327210
Post 19

If you shoot someone and it was not planned, but they didn't die or suffer life threatening injures, and the detectives doesn't have enough evidence to give them time, what would happen next?

anon304710
Post 18

How long would you be sentenced to if you shoot someone, but didn't intend to kill them? And then they went into a coma and died?

anon295605
Post 17

If a man attempts to murder his wife with a sword, and threw it at her intentionally, but that sword entered the abdomen of another person who died because of this, what punishment would he get?

Azuza
Post 16

I can definitely see why some countries have a felony murder rule in place. If you commit a murder (accidentally or on purpose) while committing another crime, I definitely think the penalties should be harsher.

After all, even if you kill the person by accident, you would never have killed them at all if you weren't in the middle of committing the first crime. I also think stuff like this can act as a deterrent for people to commit armed robberies and things like that.

KaBoom
Post 15

@starrynight - I agree with you. In both instances, someone is dead, but you definitely have to take into account the intentions of the person who killed them. Although I'm sure in some cases, the courts have a field day trying to establish whether someone committed a murder on purpose or accidentally!

starrynight
Post 14

I think it's a good thing there are different "degree" of murder and manslaughter. After all, a person who accidentally hits and kills a pedestrian shouldn't get the same sentence as a person who commits murder of the first degree by planning and carrying out a cold blooded killing.

indemnifyme
Post 13

@anon145237 - I think that temporary insanity is just what it sounds like: going crazy temporarily. I think this is usually used as a murder defense for homicides that weren't premeditated. Like if a man walks in on another man sleeping with his wife and shoots the other man, he might try to claim he went "temporarily insane" when he committed the murder.

I think temporary insanity is a different kind of defense than one you would mount for someone who was mentally ill before they committed the murder.

anon194300
Post 12

The U.S. certainly has a kangaroo court judicial system. No instance of accidental killing should ever be termed "murder," regardless of whatever else was going on. Period, end of story. If someone is robbing a liquor store, jumps in their car and on the way out of the parking lot accidentally runs over someone, killing them, that's not murder of any sort, but in the U.S. it will sure be prosecuted as murder. In any rational judicial system, that would be manslaughter, with the separate charge of armed robbery. Pretty simple.

Look at some of the things for which people are charged with murder in this crooked, childish judicial system: The lady whose dog mauled a woman to death in California, got her own arm chewed on while trying to save the victim but to no avail. Manslaughter, right? Considering she never had any intention of causing the victim's death and nobody even asserted she intended to? Nope, it was a murder charge.

A woman accidentally forgets her baby in the back of her minivan in Virginia on a hot day. It dies and she doesn't remember until her husband asks about the baby hours later. She finds it and screams so loud it could be heard across the neighborhood. Manslaughter, right? Nope, they charge her with "felony murder,” considering that her neglect of the child is a felony and he died in the "commission of the felony.” Please, that is something that should be thrown out of court in North Korea or something, let alone prosecuted here.

A man in California is going to commit suicide by parking his SUV on the train tracks but has second thoughts. He decides against it and then tries to move his SUV off the tracks but it is stuck. So he panics and runs away, the train comes by shortly after and derails because of his vehicle, killing ten passengers. Ten counts of manslaughter? Nope, they charged that poor man with ten counts of first degree murder.

Hippity, hippity, hippity, hop! Kangaroo court judicial system all the way!

anon151052
Post 11

@aprilprince: The intention to kill someone but not following through with it would constitute attempted murder in the first degree.

Although the guy didn't kill the woman, he still planned to. which would also make it premeditated, attempted murder in the first degree. If the guy had just beaten her and had no intention of killing her and she died as a result of the beating, that would make it second degree murder.

aprilprince
Post 10

you have two guys talking about killing one another's wives. they agree and set dates for the murders. I know that is conspiracy.

Ok, well, one guy kills the other guy's wife, but the other guy goes to kill the other wife. he pulls out a gun to kill her but she pepper sprays him before he can shoot her. Is that still considered first degree even though he did not get to carry it out, that was his intention to kill her? please explain.

amypollick
Post 8

@anon146531: There's actually a small discrepancy in the definition of felony murder. Someone may be charged with felony murder if they didn't actually kill the person, but took an active part in the crime, say a robbery.

Capital murder is when the killer commits the murder while in the commission of another felony.

Say a person hates someone else. They go to that person's workplace with a gun and shoot them, then walk out. That's first degree murder. That was the only felony they committed.

Say a robber goes into a convenience store with a gun and demands the money. That's armed robbery -- a felony. The cashier hands over the money and the robber shoots the cashier anyway and kills him or her. That's capital murder -- a murder committed while already in the commission of another felony.

anon146531
Post 7

What defines the difference between capital and first degree murder?

anon145237
Post 6

What is the term "temporarily insane" mean? Can drugs make someone insane temporarily?

anon130486
Post 4

i think 1st degree murder is the worst. that's when you get the worst sentence there can be.

anon127351
Post 3

Once a person is convicted of first degree murder, and is sentenced to life in prison in the state of California, and has had two appeals denied already, is there any chance whatsoever of this person ever being paroled? or released from prison?

Sunny27
Post 2

Anon91870- To answer your question it depends on the state law and what the prosecutors is recommending.

For example, the defendant accused of first degree murder knows at the onset of the trial that the prosecutor is seeking the death penalty, therefore if convicted he will be sentenced to death. The defendant however, has many opportunities to appeal.

The judge also plays a role in accepting the recommendations of the prosecutor or seeking a different sentence such as life in prison and sparing the defendant’s life. The sentence really depends on these factors.

anon91870
Post 1

If someone is convicted of first degree murder and attempted murder what is the worst sentence he can get?

Post your comments

Post Anonymously

Login

username
password
forgot password?

Register

username
password
confirm
email