Understanding What You’re Facing When Charged with Second Degree Murder in Philadelphia

Understanding What You’…

It may seem hard to believe, but people are often shocked to discover that they have been charged with murder. This is usually because they have been charged with second-degree murder - a complex charge that allows prosecutors to charge you with murder even if you didn’t mean to kill anyone. If you've been charged with second-degree murder, hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is critical if you want to avoid conviction.

At Wimmer Criminal Defense Law, we know what you’re facing and how to get a fair result. Philadelphia murder defense attorney Lauren Wimmer has the knowledge and experience you need to protect your rights and your future. If you've been charged with second-degree murder, contact us at 215-712-1212 to schedule a free consultation and learn more about how we can help you.

Second Degree Murder Defined

Under Pennsylvania law, second-degree murder is defined as a killing that is "committed while the defendant was engaged as a principal or an accomplice in the perpetration of a felony." For this reason, it is commonly referred to as "felony murder." Second-degree murder is often charged when someone is killed in connection with another felony, such as the following:

  • Robbery
  • Burglary
  • Kidnapping
  • Rape
  • Arson

For example, you can be charged with second-degree murder if you were involved in setting fire to a building that subsequently resulted in someone's death. Note, however, that you cannot be charged with second-degree murder if someone was killed during the commission of a misdemeanor or were involved in an incident that was simply reckless or negligent.

Second Degree Murder is Unintentional Homicide

Unlike first degree murder, it is important to note that the prosecution does not need to prove that you intended to commit the murder. Instead, the prosecution simply needs to prove two things:

  • You were involved in committing a felony; and
  • Someone was killed in the course of the felony.

For example, you may have been involved in a burglary with no intention of killing anyone. If you were using a firearm and accidentally shot and killed someone, you would be charged with second-degree murder. The prosecution would not need to prove that you intended to kill the victim.

Who Can Be Charged with Second Degree Murder?

It may seem obvious that the person who committed the felony would be charged with second-degree murder, but many people are surprised to find themselves facing second-degree murder charges.

The second-degree murder statute allows second-degree murder to be charged to the "principal" or "accomplice" to a felony. This means that not only the person actually committing the felony can be charged with second-degree murder, but also anyone who helped them commit the crime or was involved in any way. Here are some examples where prosecutors can charge people with second-degree murder:

  • Someone helps their friends gain access to a building that they then set on fire that kills the occupants of the building.
  • Someone drives another person to a bank robbery where someone is killed.
  • Someone acts as a lookout during a sexual assault where the victim dies.
  • Someone helps cover up a felony that resulted in death.
  • Someone helps plan and obtain weapons for a burglary where someone is killed.

If there are multiple people involved in the crime, each person is equally responsible for any deaths that occur, regardless of the extent of their involvement. To further illustrate just how broadly second-degree murder can be charged, here are some additional examples you may not expect:

  • The victim was killed by police in attempting to stop the crime or apprehend the perpetrator.
  • The victim was an accomplice in the crime.
  • The victim was killed during the perpetrator’s escape.

You can find yourself facing second-degree murder charges even if you weren't present at the scene of the crime and had no involvement in the murder itself. Prosecutors can use any connection to the crime as a basis to charge you with second-degree murder.

Potential Penalties of a Second Degree Murder Conviction

Second-degree murder is a first-degree felony in Pennsylvania, which means that it is one of the most serious criminal charges you can face. If convicted, you will face a mandatory life sentence.

Is There Any Defense to a Second Degree Murder Charge?

Considering the broad discretion prosecutors have in charging defendants with second-degree murder, it may seem impossible to avoid conviction. While a successful defense is complex, don't give up hope. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you get a fair result.

First, it’s important to understand that the prosecution must prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the highest burden of proof required by our legal system. It means that in order to convict you no reasonable juror could doubt that you are guilty. As a result, the prosecution must put on very compelling evidence to prove their case. Your attorney can force the prosecution to meet their burden by challenging the evidence the prosecution has and introducing evidence that proves you were innocent.

The prosecution must also prove that your involvement in the crime was actually in furtherance of the crime itself. For example, if you lent a shotgun to your friend to go hunting, you cannot be convicted of second-degree murder if they use the shotgun to commit robbery.

Finally, the prosecution must prove that the felony was the proximate cause of the victim's death. In other words, you cannot be convicted of second-degree murder if the victim died due to circumstances outside of the crime. This isn't always easy to determine, but prosecutors will often file second-degree murder charges even in questionable circumstances.

Call Us Today to Schedule a Free Case Evaluation with a Philadelphia Murder Defense Lawyer

Your whole life is at stake if you've been charged with second-degree murder. Don't leave your future in the hands of the prosecution - schedule a free consultation with Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Lauren Wimmer. She'll fight for your rights and help you get a fair result. Call us today at 215-712-1212 or contact us online to learn more about how we can help you.

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Categories: Murder