The criminal charge of homicide has two components: action and intent. That's important to know because a charge of first degree homicide carries a life sentence without parole or the death penalty. If there are extenuating circumstances that can cast doubt on intent, then there are options for a case to be made for a lesser offense.

  • Criminally insane?
  • Homicide by DUI when you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol?
  • Under the influence of medication?
  • Accidental homicide by misadventure?

If it is possible to negate the element of specific intent to kill, the prosecutor may only be able to charge third degree homicide, which carries a sentence of 20 to 40 years.

No matter how bad it is, there are always ways to lessen the offense.

The Four Types Of Murder Under State Law

The criminalization for this crime is found in 18 Pa.C.S. § 2501. Also known as "homicide," murder is the intentional and unlawful killing of another. There are three types of murder and a fourth charge known as "manslaughter."

  1. First degree — This is the intentional killing of another. The penalty for this offense is life in jail without the possibility of parole or the death penalty. At Shaffer & Engle, we are death penalty certified by the Pennsylvania Bar Association ("PBA").
  2. Second degree — This is also known as "felony murder" because it is any murder that occurs when one is the primary actor or an accomplice in the commission of a felony, such as robbery, burglary, rape, kidnapping, or arson. The penalty for this offense is life in prison without the possibility of parole.
  3. Third degree — Murder of the third degree is a felony one, meaning it has a maximum penalty of 40 years imprisonment. A murder that is committed with "malice" is a third degree. Malice is a hardness of heart or wanton disregard that your actions may lead to the death of another. For example, leaving an individual that is three years old in the woods on a cold winter night is done with "malice". You know that the possible outcome of your actions is that they will die.
  4. Manslaughter — There are two types of manslaughter, voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary manslaughter is the unlawful killing of another under circumstances of intense passion. For example, finding your spouse in bed with another may lead to one or more deaths. If the killing is done "in the heat of the moment" it may be voluntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter, on the other hand, is a criminally negligent homicide. If one is grossly negligent or careless in the manner in which they are acting, they may cause the death of another.

The ways in which murder are properly defended are by proof that the defendant was not the individual that caused the death. Or, proof that their intent was not to cause the death of another. Alternatively, that the were legally "justified" or acted in self-defense of themselves or another is grounds to exculpate one from the charge of murder.

Voluntary Intoxication Is A Defense To First Degree Murder

It is a defense to first degree murder only, that at the time the defendant caused the death of another, he or she was under the influence of a drug or alcohol to such a degree that rendered him or her unable to formulate the specific intent to kill. This is the only crime that allows such a defense. All other crimes do not permit voluntary intoxication as a legal defense.

Insanity Is A Defense To First Degree Murder

It is a defense to first degree murder by a showing of the defendant that at the time of the murder, they were unable to formulate the specific intent to kill due to a mental illness. In some instances, post traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), or some other type of psychiatric illness or mental handicap. In essence, the mental disorder prevented them from being able to premeditate. The result of such defense may be a lowered intent on the part of the defendant, thus resulting in a conviction for another type of murder.

A Strong Defense For Those Facing Charges For Violent Crimes

At the law office of Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC, Harrisburg homicide lawyers Jeffrey Engle and Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, Esquire, will thoroughly investigate every aspect of your case to get the facts that could prove your innocence or the evidence to cast doubt on the issue of intent. They each have extensive experience defending clients facing state and federal criminal charges for violent crimes such as:

  • Murder
  • Manslaughter
  • Gun crimes
  • Weapons offenses

They represent both adults and juveniles in Pennsylvania criminal courts.

What If The Case Goes To A Jury?

Our lawyers understand the risks you face in a jury trial. If it is to your advantage, they will negotiate for reduced charges and a lesser sentence. When our case is strong and the prosecutor's evidence is questionable, we stand a good chance of success in bargaining. In particular, Mr. Engle's past experience as a prosecutor helps him identify weaknesses in the prosecution's case.

Contact Us

If you have been charged with homicide or any other violent crime, contact a Pennsylvania murder attorney at Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC, at 717-827-4074. We have office in Harrisburg.