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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 types of murder and two types of manslaughter. 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.

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.

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

  • 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

Penalties and Sentences

Pennsylvania law sets a sentence of life imprisonment after a conviction for second degree murder.

Pennsylvania Second Degree Murder Statute

18 Pa. Cons. Stat. section 2502
18 Pa. Cons. Stat. section 1102

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

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