Difference Between Capital Murder and First Degree Murder

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Whether or not you are familiar with the law, you may want to familiarize yourself with the meanings of the different types of murder. This is especially true if you or someone you know has murdered another person.

It is important to understand that taking someone’s life, no matter the reason, is subject to criminal charges. Knowing the difference in the types of murder charges that can be filed can help you to understand the situation better.

Are you curious about the difference between capital murder and first-degree murder? Read on to learn more.

What is Capital Murder?

Capital murder is the term used to define the type of homicide that is considered more severe than any other type. In most cases, to receive this charge, it has to be proven that the situation holds a more serious degree of special circumstances.

While the charge of capital murder varies from state to state, the original punishment for this charge is death. This is because the circumstance behind the murder is typically more severe than most other homicides.

For example, for a homicide to be considered a capital offense, the situation has to be seen as aggravating. This means that there are specific types of victims or circumstances that cause the case to be more serious.

Here are some of the special circumstances that may apply:

  • Homicide of a police officer
  • Multiple victims
  • A homicide that involves torture
  • Murder of an elderly person
  • Murder of a child
  • Murder for hire

While this is not an exhaustive list of the types of murders that fall under the capital offense classification, these are the most common. A person who is deemed to have killed someone under these circumstances can be charged with capital murder.

The punishment for states that have the capital murder charge is typically the death of the individual who is charged. Although states without the death penalty often issue capital murder charges, they do so without the death stipulation attached.

What is First-Degree Murder?

While capital murder is considered the most severe type of homicide charge, first-degree murder is the most common. This is because of the circumstances that are behind the murder and what occurred before and after the event.

In most cases, first-degree murder refers to a situation where intent and premeditation are involved with the case. This means that for a homicide to be ruled a first-degree murder, the prosecution has to determine both of these factors.

Intent refers to the state of mind of the individual committing the crime at the time that the event occurred. Much of the proof for this must be determined to be that the person had every intention of killing the victim before the event.

Premeditation takes the situation a bit further into the charge of first-degree murder charge since this also goes to the intent of the individual. Premeditation means that the perpetrator did not only intend to commit murder but took the time to plan it out.

It is important to keep in mind that for an individual to be charged with first-degree murder, the burden of proof falls on the prosecution side of the case. They have to prove, without a reasonable doubt, that the perpetrator not only committed the crime but did so with malice and premeditation.

Depending on the state in which the murder took place, the punishment for this type of murder charge can vary. For the most part, the charge of first-degree murder can result in the perpetrator being sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

If a person is convicted of first-degree murder and is sentenced to life in prison, there are also specific features that may apply. For example, a person could be sentenced to just life in prison or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

What is the Difference Between Capital and First-Degree Murder?

As previously mentioned, capital murder and first-degree murder are very similar and only vary by a small degree. The difference between the two types of homicide charges varies largely depending on the state in which the murder took place.

For the most part, the biggest difference between the two types of murder charges is the circumstances that are behind the offense. It is important to note that both are considered first-degree offenses, however, when the circumstances warrant it, the charge can be bumped up to a capital offense.

For example, when the murder takes place against one of the above-mentioned special classes of individuals, the charge is bumped up to a capital offense. This is because the circumstances are considered much more serious than other situations.

When it comes to the punishment that is associated with capital versus first-degree murder, they are similar yet different depending on the state. While both charges can hold the minimum charge of 25 years in prison, they both can hold the maximum of life in prison, and with capital charges, even death.

Overall the difference between capital and first-degree murder is minimal but involves the victims and circumstances more than anything else. In states where the death penalty is on the table capital murder can be seen as the most severe type of charge.

Other Types of Murder Charges

It is also important to keep in mind that capital murder and first-degree murder are not the only charges that can be brought on by homicide. Depending on the specific situation, many other charges may be brought against an individual.

While these other murder charges do not hold the same severity of punishment, they are still enough to keep a convicted person incarcerated for years to come. Understanding the differences between the various murder charges can help you if you or someone you know is charged.

Curious about the lesser-known types of murder charges that exist? Keep reading to learn more.

Felony Murder

Another type of charge that can be brought against an individual who commits murder is called felony murder. In this situation, the offense is typically considered first-degree, however, the circumstances behind it make it less severe.

For a charge of homicide to be considered felony murder, the event must have taken place during the act of another felony. For example, if someone dies as a result of an individual being involved in a bank robbery, arson, or carjacking, they can be charged with felony murder.

Although most states have the felony murder rule in place, some states did away with this type of charge. For states that have the charge, the punishment can be as severe as if they were charged with first-degree murder.

It may also be important to note that there are other circumstances in which someone may be charged with felony murder, even if they did not physically kill the other person. In these cases, if a victim dies of natural causes such as a heart attack during the crime, the suspect can be charged with felony murder.

Second-Degree Murder

Another type of charge that can be brought against a suspect who kills another person is second-degree murder. For a homicide to be ruled second-degree, it has to be proven that the individual did not intend or premeditate the killing of the victim.

In most cases, this type of charge is referred to as a “crime of passion” whether there was an emotional tie to the individuals involved or not. The situation leading up to the death of the victim is what can deem the situation to be second-degree murder.

For example, if an individual is killed as a result of a bar fight, domestic dispute, or other heated situation, the suspect can be charged with second-degree murder. This is because while they did not intend or plan to kill the individual, the result was the same.

In most states, the punishment for second-degree murder can be as little as 15 years up to life in prison. Based on the severity of the situation, life in prison can be given with or without the possibility of parole.

Voluntary Manslaughter

Another homicide charge that can be brought against a perpetrator is voluntary manslaughter which is a much lesser charge. In this type of situation, homicide is deemed as the unintentional death of the victim that was not premeditated.

Like a second-degree murder charge, voluntary manslaughter can be the offense given to a suspect that was involved in some type of altercation against the victim. In some cases, these are also charges brought against someone who kills someone in the “heat of passion.”

The punishment for someone charged with voluntary manslaughter is typically up to 11 years in prison. Keep in mind that the severity of the sentence is dependent on the state in which the crime is committed.

Involuntary Manslaughter

This type of charge holds an even lesser offense than voluntary manslaughter since there is typically no intent, malice, or premeditation involved. In these circumstances, the death of an individual is typically the result of negligence or an accident.

The punishment for an involuntary manslaughter charge can again vary depending on the state in which the incident took place. For the most part, involuntary manslaughter can be punishable by up to 4 years in prison.

Reference Legal Explanations

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