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New York Second Degree Murder Laws

Overview of New York Second Degree Murder Laws

Under New York criminal law, murder in the second degree is one of several forms of homicide, or conduct which causes the death of a person. Other forms of homicide include first-degree murder, manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and abortion. Pursuant to the statute, a person commits second-degree murder in one of five ways: (1) with the intent to cause the death of another person, he or she causes the death of such person or a third person; (2) under circumstances demonstrating a "depraved indifference to human life," the defendant "recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person, and thereby causes the death of another person"; (3) acting alone or in concert with others, the defendant commits or attempts to commit a specified felony (including robbery, burglary, kidnapping, arson, rape, and sexual abuse) and, in the course of and in furtherance of such crime or of immediate flight therefrom, he or she causes the death of a non-participant; (4) under circumstances demonstrating a "depraved indifference to human life," a defendant 18 years old or more "recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of serious physical injury or death" to a person less than 11 years old and causes the death of such person; or (5) while in the course of committing a specified crime such as rape, a criminal sexual act or sexual abuse, a defendant 18 years old or more intentionally causes the death of a person less than 14 years old.

The second type of second-degree murder listed above - "depraved indifference" murder - is a form of reckless homicide. To convict a defendant for second-degree depraved indifference murder, the prosecution must prove - in addition to the defendant's creation of a "grave risk of death" to another person - two distinct mens reas, or mental states: recklessness, and a "depraved indifference to human life." Convictions for depraved indifference murder have become increasingly rare, and often involve conduct creating danger to a group of people rather than a single individual.

The third type of second-degree murder described above - "felony murder" - may alternatively be classified as a form of first-degree murder, depending on the circumstances surrounding the killing. First-degree felony murder requires the defendant's intent to kill the victim or another non-participant in the crime; second-degree felony murder requires only the defendant's intent to commit one of the predicate felonies. Also, a person charged with first-degree felony murder must have personally caused the victim's death or commanded another to do so; on the other hand, a person may be convicted of second-degree felony murder for being an accomplice of the actual killer. In addition, the predicate crimes for first-degree felony murder are more limited in scope than those for second-degree felony murder.

Defenses to Second Degree Murder Charges

  • Extreme emotional disturbance
  • Assisted suicide without the use of duress or deception
  • Defendant (1) did not commit the homicidal act and did not cause or aid in its commission; (2) was not armed with a deadly weapon or other instrument capable of causing death or serious physical injury; (3) had no reasonable ground to believe that any other participant was so armed; and (4) had no reasonable ground to believe that any other participant intended to engage in conduct likely to result in death or serious physical injury (for felony murder)
  • Mental disease or defect
  • Infancy (for persons under 13 years of age)
  • Self-defense
  • Defense of another person

Penalties and Sentences

Murder in the second degree is a class A-I felony. Section 60.06 of the New York Penal Code sets forth the authorized disposition reserved for a specific type of second-degree murder, among other offenses. The statute specifies that a person convicted of the fifth type of second-degree murder described earlier in this section - causing the death of a person under 14 years old in the course of committing a specified crime such as rape, a criminal sexual act or sexual abuse - will be subject to life imprisonment without parole. Convictions for any other type of second-degree felony carry a sentence of a 15 to 25-year term in prison.

New York Second Degree Murder Statute

Murder in the Second Degree
Penal Code Section 125.25

Note: State laws are constantly changing -- please contact a New York criminal attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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