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What’s first-degree murder in Pennsylvania?

On Behalf of | Mar 1, 2024 | Criminal Defense

If you intentionally kill someone in Pennsylvania, you could be charged with first-degree murder. It is the most serious homicide charge, and it carries severe legal penalties in the event of a conviction. Murder is a capital offense, and you may spend a lifetime behind bars or worse if you are found guilty of this crime.

A key element of first-degree murder that sets it apart from other types of homicide is premeditation. It means that (hypothetically) you thought through the killing in advance rather than acting impulsively or by accident. Under Pennsylvania law, all murder committed by means of poison, lying in wait or other willful and deliberate action, for example, amounts to a first-degree homicide.

The potential consequences of a conviction

As mentioned, the penalties for first-degree murder in Pennsylvania are dire. If the prosecution does not seek the death penalty, you will likely face a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole if you are convicted. If the death penalty is sought and imposed, you will be sentenced accordingly.

What are the potential defenses?

As with any other crime, there are potential defenses that you can raise against a first-degree murder charge in Pennsylvania. Some common defense strategies include:

  • Arguing your actions were in self-defense to protect yourself from imminent deadly harm
  • Pleading insanity by showing the defendant was not mentally competent at the time of the crime and should, therefore, not be held criminally liable
  • Showing a lack of intent or premeditation
  • Claiming a mistaken identity or showing you were somewhere else at the time of the crime and could not have committed it

The viability of these defenses depends on the specific circumstances of a case. Seeking legal guidance early on can help craft a tailored defense and explore other options that could potentially reduce the severity of murder charges or secure a favorable verdict.