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Differences between first-degree and second-degree murder

When California residents are charged with murder, they could be charged with first-degree murder or second-degree murder. While both charges deal with an intentional killing of someone, the first-degree and second-degree part of the charges are different based on the accused individuals' mental states.

Murder is legally defined as an intentional killing or a killing that resulted from another person's dangerous conduct with a lack of concern for human life. Those who are charged with first-degree murder are accused of creating a plan to commit the murder and then carrying out that plan. Those who are charged with second-degree murder are accused of killing another person without prior planning.

There are three typical situations in which individuals may be accused of second-degree murder. Impulsive killings with malice aforethought occur when individuals had no intention of committing a killing until the moment of the murder. Killings that occur when a person attempts to cause serious bodily harm to another are also considered to be second-degree murder because there was no intention to kill the other person. Finally, killings that resulted from depraved indifference to human life may also be considered second-degree murder. Typical examples of this include reckless driving or shooting a gun into a crowd without the intention to kill.

Those who are accused of committing violent crimes, including murder, could face serious punishments if they are convicted. These potential punishments could include a lengthy prison sentences, fines and probation. Because the consequences are so severe, a criminal law attorney may open his or her own investigation into the case. This may include utilizing expert witness testimony from a number of different areas of expertise, including pathology, DNA analysis and accident reconstruction. The attorney may also utilize certain strategies based on the evidence, including if the killing occurred due to self-defense.

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