The Different Degrees of Murder

degrees of murder

A new question was recently sent to us via Best Self Defense Weapons Mailbag which asks, “After watching the news about the shooting incident in a Florida theater wherein Curtis Reeves was sentenced guilty of second degree murder, may I know how the different degrees of murder are classified?”

The Nature of the Different Degrees of Murder

Basically, there are three degrees of murder namely first-degree murder, second-degree murder and manslaughter (sometimes called third-degree murder in some states). Each degree varies depending on the conditions present during the crime. Here are the key differences of the degrees of murder based on the definition provided by Nolo:

First Degree Murder

This involves a premeditated and deliberate killing of a person. There is planning involved before the crime. For example, a man buys a rifle and lies in wait in the backyard of the person whom he hated so much. Upon seeing the person, the armed man shoots him to death.

The conviction of first degree murder would make a person suffer the ultimate penalty of the state which is capital punishment or death penalty. In the absence of the penalty of death, life imprisonment will be applied.

Second Degree Murder

Similar to the case of Reeves, a second degree murder is unplanned, however, the intent to kill exists. Nolo reminds that the conditions that would constitute a second degree murder vary with each state but it is lesser than first degree murder.

The punishment for second degree murder would be a term of years. People convicted of second degree murder are still eligible for parole.

Third Degree Murder or Manslaughter

Manslaughter is sometimes referred to as third degree murder in some states. However, others do not consider manslaughter as murder because it lacks several factors that constitute such. There are two variations of manslaughter, voluntary and involuntary.

The first arises when a person is suddenly provoked. Then, it immediately results to a sudden heat of passion to kill that results to the death of the person who incited the provocation. Instances of voluntary manslaughter are bar fights when someone kills someone in the heat of the moment.

On the other hand, involuntary manslaughter happens when a person has no intention to kill, however, due to his negligence, death still occurred under his watch. One instance of involuntary manslaughter is when a person intoxicated with liquor accidentally runs over another person with a vehicle which kills the latter.


Readers should be reminded that this article is for informational purposes only and it is not intended to serve as a legal advice for persons charged with the crimes mentioned. If you have been charged with any of the degrees of murder mentioned here, the most recommended course of action would be to consult a lawyer who can help you build up your defense based on witnesses, evidences or exemptions provided by law.

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Article Reference: Nolo

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