• Legis Scriptor

Second degree murder

Authored by Neha Bisht

Keywords: Murder, First-degree murder, Second-degree murder, Intention, Planning, Parole, Punishment.


Murder is classified into various degrees. This paper deals with second-degree murder and how it is different from other kinds of murders. It also talks about the felony murders which is also a part of first-degree murder. The punishment of second-degree murder differs from state to state and the same is mentioned in this paper.


Murder is killing another person whether by prior planning or not. The Indian Penal Code defines Culpable homicide as murder under section 300 when:

· The act is done with the intention to cause death.

· The act is accompanied with the intention to cause bodily injury which the offender has the knowledge that it would result in death.

· The person was aware that committing such an act will cause death or bodily injury and still anyway commits the act.

Ingredients of Murder under IPC

· The act should be committed with an intention to cause death.

· The act should be committed with an intention to cause bodily injury resulting in death.

· The act must be committed with the knowledge that such an act is likely to cause death.

Second-degree murder is treated less gravely than first-degree murder but more gravely than manslaughter. It is so because of the higher criminal intent in the second-degree murder than in the manslaughter. The degree of recklessness is what distinguishes manslaughter from second- degree murder. The killing can be termed as manslaughter if the person has shown just recklessness but in case, he has killed in an extremely inhumane manner, the killing is a depraved-heart murder and can be termed as second-degree murder.

The US divided murder into different categories:

· First-degree murders are murders which are committed with prior planning and are highly brutal in nature.

· Second-degree murders are committed intentionally but without any planning. The person who commits second-degree murder does so in a very inhumane manner.

· Third-degree murders are the result of negligence, recklessness or indifference.

· Felony murder is said to commit when a person is killed due to another offence which was in commission, regardless of the fact that it was intentional or not.

· Justifiable homicide is applied where death is caused when a person is exercising his right of self-defenses.

Comparing First-degree murder and Second-degree murder

Murder which is committed willfully, deliberately and, with prior planning comes under the category of first-degree murder. When a person kills another person out of sheer ill will then it can also be put under the category of first-degree murder. The punishment of first-degree murder is always more than the second-degree murder because it is a graver crime.

In some cases, the death penalty is given to the convict while in other cases life imprisonment without the benefit of parole may be given.

Felony murder also comes under the category of first-degree murder. It can be intentional or unintentional. Even if the person is not the killer then also, he can be liable for murder, if it happens in the course of a dangerous felony.

In the case of Com. v Redline[1], it was said that the defendant is not directly liable for murder in case he is not directly responsible for the death of the accomplice.

In State v Hoang[2], it was said that all the persons who are part of the felony will be liable if one of them kills a victim while committing the specified felony.

But there is also an exception to this rule which says that a person will not be liable for killing a victim if he didn’t take part in the act that actually killed the victim and neither had the knowledge nor awareness that the victim might get killed. [i]

Illustration: A son poisons his father’s tea every day in order to inherit his property after he dies. One day when the father dies due to the heavy dose of poison, the son could be charged with first-degree murder.

Second-degree murder is a less grave crime than first-degree murder. It is committed intentionally and without any prior planning.

Illustration: Tom becomes angry with his neighbor for blocking access to his driveway and runs into the house to get his gun, and returns and shoots and kills his neighbor. Here, in this case, Tom had no prior plan to kill his neighbor, however, getting his gun and shooting his neighbor was intentional. So, it will come under second-degree murder. [ii]

Punishment for Second-degree murder

The person convicted for second-degree punishment can say that he acted in private defence and had he not acted in the way he did, it would have put his life under risk. He can also take the defence that he caused the murder to save somebody else’s life. However, it must be kept in mind that the court will take these defences into consideration only if the defendant succeeds in proving that the defence was proportional to the threat of harm faced by him. The person convicted is often eligible for parole.

The punishment for second-degree murder varies from state to state.

· In Arizona, the minimum punishment for a person who has committed second-degree murder is ten years while the maximum punishment is of twenty-five years.

· In California, the punishment can range from fifteen years to life imprisonment.

· In Louisiana, the punishment is life imprisonment at hard labour and he will not be given the benefit of parole, probation or suspension of punishment throughout his punishment.

In federal cases, the punishment is determined by the judges with the help of Federal Sentencing Guidelines. [iii]


Murder is basically unlawfully killing another human being with a malice intention. Murder is also classified under various degrees. Prior planning is what distinguishes the different degrees from one another. Most states have formulated strict laws for people committing murder. However, the deciding factor for punishment is the intensity with which the murder was committed.

Second-degree murder offenders do not get served as severely as the first-degree murder offenders as the later one is a graver crime. The death penalty is not given in the case of second-degree murder because it was not pre-planned but what we cannot overlook is that it was also not committed in the heat of the moment. In any case, murder is a very heinous crime and the offender needs to be punished very harshly so, that no person could ever think of killing another human being.





Foot Notes:

[1] 391 Pa. 486 (1958) [2] 2011