North Carolina Second Degree Murder Laws

Second degree murder differs from first degree in that it is not a premeditated act, even though it is an intentional killing. For example, motorist A cuts off motorist B; motorist B is angered, pulls out a gun, and shoots motorist A dead. It was intentional, but not necessarily in the heat of passion (since no reasonable person would be provoked to kill) nor premeditated.

Premeditation is a distinguishing factor that separates first degree murder from second degree murder, but it does not have to be included in all first degree murders. For example, any killing that occurs during the commission of certain felonies including crimes such as the following: arson, burglary, kidnapping, rape, or sex offense, robbery or other felony using a deadly weapon is considered a first degree murder. Even accidental killings that occur during the commission of these designated felonies are considered first degree murders.

It is important to understand the definition for first degree murder because it affects the definition of second degree murder; the law defines all other murders that are not first degree murders as second degree murders.

Here are a few typical scenarios that are considered second degree murder:

  • A murder that is committed on impulse with malice aforethought
  • A murder that results from the intent to cause serious harm
  • A murder that shows disregard for human life

Under first degree, the more serious offense, an individual can be sentenced to life in prison or sentenced to death. Anyone convicted under North Carolina's second degree murder law faces 12 years to life in prison.

The following chart highlights the main provisions of North Carolina second degree murder laws. See FindLaw's Homicide section to learn more.

Code Section North Carolina General Statutes ยง 14-17
Definition of the Crime

Intentional killing with malice, but without premeditation (in other words, all murders not charged as first degree murder)

Classifications / Penalties

Class B1 felony; 144 months to life in prison

Class B2 felony; 94 to 393 months in prison (If malice is based on recklessness or the murder results from drug distribution)

Defenses Insanity; self-defense; actual innocence

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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North Carolina Second Degree Murder Laws: Related Resources

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