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Delaware First-Degree Murder

A homicide occurs anytime that one person takes the life of another person. In Delaware, there are six types of criminal homicide: first-degree murder, second-degree murder, murder by abuse or neglect, manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and vehicular homicide. This article provides a brief overview of Delaware's most harshly punished form of criminal homicide: first-degree murder.

Code Section

Delaware Code section 636: Murder in the First Degree

What's Prohibited?

First-degree murder can be committed in any of the following ways:
  • Intentionally causing the death of another person
  • Recklessly causing the death of another person while engaged in the commission of, or attempt to commit, or flight after committing or attempting to commit any felony
  • Intentionally causing another person to commit suicide by force or duress
  • Recklessly causing the death of a law-enforcement officer, corrections employee, fire fighter, paramedic, emergency medical technician, fire marshal, or fire police officer while the officer is in the lawful performance of duties
  • Causing the death of another person by the use of a bomb or a similar destructive device, or
  • Causing the death of another person in order to avoid or prevent the lawful arrest of any person, or in the course of and in furtherance of the commission or attempted commission of escape in the second degree or escape after conviction

Penalties

First-degree murder is a class A felony.
  • If the offender is a minor (less than 18 years old): Murder in the first degree is punishable by imprisonment for 25 to imprisonment for the rest of the offender's life.
  • If the offender is an adult (over 18 years old): Murder in the first degree is punishable by death or by imprisonment for the rest of the offender's life.

The Felony-Murder Rule

As you can see from the chart above, first-degree murder can be committed in a variety of different ways in Delaware. One of the main ways is via the felony murder rule. In Delaware, the felony murder rule applies to cases in which someone dies during or shortly after the commission (or attempted commission) of a felony due to the offender's reckless conduct.

A murder conviction generally requires that the offender killed intentionally, however, under the felony murder rule an offender can be convicted of murder even if they didn't intent to cause the death. Here the state is punishing dangerous behavior that put others at risk during the commission of a felony.

Killing Under Extreme Emotional Distress – Mitigating Murder to Manslaughter

In some cases, a killing that meets the qualifications for first-degree murder will be downgraded to the less crime of manslaughter if the offender acted under "extreme emotional distress." In Delaware, the fact that the accused intentionally caused the death of another person while under the influence of extreme emotional distress is a mitigating circumstance sufficient to reduce the crime to manslaughter.

The offender must prove that there is a reasonable explanation or excuse for the existence of the extreme emotional distress. The classic example of killing under extreme emotional distress is the offender who comes home to find his wife in bed with her lover and kills the lover in the heat of passion.

Additional Resources

State laws change frequently. For case specific information regarding Delaware's first-degree murder law contact a local criminal defense lawyer.

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