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Pennsylvania Second Degree Murder Laws

Overview of Pennsylvania Second Degree Murder Laws

In Pennsylvania, criminal homicide, the unlawful death of a human being, includes three (3) types of murder and two (2) types of manslaughter, voluntary and involuntary.

Additional details about Pennsylvania's second degree murder law can be found in the following table.

Statute Pennsylvania Statutes Title 18 § 2502
Statutory Definition of Second Degree Murder A criminal homicide constitutes murder of the second degree when it is committed while defendant was engaged as a principal or an accomplice in the perpetration of a felony.  
Classification / Penalties
1st degree felony / mandatory life imprisonment

Felony Murder Rule In Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania state laws use the felony-murder rule as the basis for the prosecution of a homicide as a second degree murder. The felony murder rule describes a homicide committed during the commission of an underlying felony such as burglary, robbery, rape, kidnapping, and other crimes listed by state law.

Distinguishing Murder From Manslaughter

Pennsylvania laws require proof of malice to distinguish murder from manslaughter. To prove malice in a murder case, the prosecutor must show the defendant's general intent to commit an unlawful act or achieve a harmful result. In a second degree murder case, the prosecutor can infer malice from the defendant's intent to participate in the underlying felony.

Specific Intent And Second Degree Murder Charges

In addition, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant had a specific intent to kill. The defendant's specific intent allows the state to prosecute the homicide as murder instead of manslaughter. For a second degree murder charge, Pennsylvania law infers a specific intent to kill from the defendant's intent to carry out the underlying felony. A defendant may be liable for murder even if he did not intend to kill anyone, as long as he did intend to participate in the crime which resulted in the victim's death.

Defenses to Second Degree Murder Charges

There are a number of possible defenses to the crime of second degree murder in Pennsylvania. Please consult an experience criminal defense attorney to learn which ones may apply to your specific situation.

  • Mental insanity;
  • Death resulted from the victim's independent action and not from the commission of the underlying felony;
  • No intent to commit the underlying felony;
  • Accidental killing without criminal intent while engaging in lawful activity;
  • Self-defense if the defendant did not create the circumstances which led to the killing.

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

Pennsylvania Criminal Laws Related Resources:

Get Immediate Legal Help with Your Criminal Case, for Free

A conviction of crimes involving homicide will most likely involve a lengthy prison sentence, but the prosecution must be able to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Those charged with second degree murder should seek immediate legal counsel. If you have questions about murder charges or any other criminal matters, have a Pennsylvania defense attorney evaluate your case for free.

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