Female defense attorney writing accused prisoners statements for court. Is first or third degree worse?

Is First or Third Degree Worse in Murder Cases?

People accused or under investigation for murder in Minneapolis, MN, might wonder: Is first or third degree worse? You may face murder in the first degree for allegedly contemplating or planning to end someone’s life. You may also face a first-degree murder charge for killing someone during a sexual assault, aggravated assault, or terrorism act.

Female defense attorney writing accused prisoners statements for court. Is first or third degree worse?

Third-degree murder does not include intent to kill. Prosecutors usually file a third-degree murder as a depraved mind or heart criminal offense. This charge may arise when the defendant acts without regard for human life and terminates another person’s life.

Factors such as premeditation, intent, depraved mind, and indifference to human life help distinguish between first- and third-degree murder. Adults face life imprisonment (with or without parole), while juveniles face life imprisonment with parole after 15 years for first-degree murder. The penalty for a third-degree murder offense is up to 25 years in prison.

First Degree Murder vs. Third Degree Murder

The degrees of murder in Minnesota include first-, second-, and third-degree murder. Sentencing depends on the particular murder charge an offender is facing.

First-degree murder is the most heinous felony offense, as it attracts the severest penalties. The reason is that 1st-degree murder is an intentional act of killing, which is deliberate and willful.

Third-degree murder is often informally referred to as a crime of passion. It is an accidental killing without any prior intent to kill. The crime often happens under circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to be considered mentally or emotionally disturbed.

Severity of Each Degree

Since 1st-degree felony murder involves intent and premeditation, it is a more severe murder charge than third-degree murder. Penalties can be more severe if they have aggravating factors. These factors include kidnapping, sexual violence, burglary, sale of controlled substances, and terrorism.

In a third-degree murder case, the charges are less severe because it does not involve premeditation or intent. However, the charges may attract serious penalties if the defendant used a weapon or had a previous criminal record. Other aggravating factors for this crime include hatred/prejudice, cruelty, child abuse, and significant impact on the victim’s family and community.

Differences in Intent and Circumstances

Intent and circumstances are two of the most important factors in murder cases. Intent refers to the offender’s mental state during the killing. It determines whether the perpetrator meant to kill the victim or cause serious bodily harm.

On the other hand, circumstances refer to the facts and unique details of the killing. It looks at the place, time, and manner in which the crime happened. The circumstances also constitute the parties involved and the defendant’s motives.

The defendant’s intent to kill can significantly impact the charges the defendant faces and the potential penalties. If the perpetrator intended to kill the victim and planned the killing, the perpetrator may be charged with first-degree murder. But if the defendant killed the victim accidentally while committing another crime, the defendant may be charged with third-degree murder.

The circumstances in which first-degree and third-degree murder are committed can also vary. First-degree murder occurs in a calculated and deliberate manner. Third-degree murder, on the other hand, happens spontaneously or impulsively.

The Legal Definition of First-Degree Murder in Minnesota

First-Degree murder is the most serious type of homicide of all five levels of homicide under Minnesota law. It often occurs when the murder is premeditated. It may also occur when the perpetrator was engaging or trying to engage in a 1st- or 2nd-degree sexual offense with violence or force. Other instances in which this crime can occur include:

  • The perpetrator committed or attempted to commit 1st- or 2nd-degree aggravated robbery, arson, or burglary.
  • The alleged offender engaged in witness tampering (first degree), drive-by shooting, illegal sale of controlled substances, or escape from custody.
  • The alleged offender killed a Minnesota local or state official or a minor.
  • The perpetrator subjected a household or family member to domestic abuse while showing extreme disregard for human life.
  • The crime occurred during a kidnapping.
  • The perpetrator committed, conspired to commit, or tried to commit a felony-level offense to advance terrorism while showing disregard for human life.

You can beat a murder charge in the first-degree. You will need to work closely with a defense lawyer with a success rate of handling cases similar to yours. The lawyer will look at the facts of your case and determine the best legal defense to fight your charges. Examples of defenses used in first-degree murder charges include self-defense and insanity. Defenses, like intoxication and unreasonable self-defense, may be presented to ask the court for lower murder charges or less harsh sentences.

Premeditation and Intent

Intent and premeditation are the two important aspects that prosecutors in Minnesota must prove without a reasonable doubt in first-degree murder cases. Intent means that you wanted to kill the victim. However, this factor does not consider the specific reason or way of wanting to kill someone.

Premeditation means that there was an element of thought and planning in advance before the crime was committed. The thought and planning process does not have to take long. Instead, the prosecutor must prove you thought about the crime before committing it.

Motive is not among the factors the prosecution must prove in a first-degree murder case. However, if this factor can be proven, it can help demonstrate that there was intent and premeditation in the crime. Either way, the jury will consider factors, such as the murder circumstances and your state of mind when the crime was committed, to determine whether you had intent or premeditated the crime.

The jury will also look at your relationship with the murder victim and statements/actions before, during, and after the crime happened. Intent and premeditation can be inferred from the murder circumstances, even if you did not explicitly state that you wanted to or thought about killing the victim.

For these reasons, you should not fight murder charges on your own. Instead, you should enlist the services of a lawyer knowledgeable about your state’s murder laws and experienced in defending persons charged or accused of murder.

Penalties for First-Degree Murder Convictions

Life imprisonment is the penalty for first-degree murder in Minnesota. The sentence also comes with the option of parole once you serve 30 years or no parole. Juveniles get to serve 15 years with parole in a youth detention center.

The Legal Definition of Third-Degree Murder in Minnesota

Third-degree murder charges arise when a person kills someone else without intending to do so. This charge may occur when a defendant’s lack of respect for human life ends another person’s life. A person may also face this charge if the person causes someone else’s death by unlawfully administering, distributing, exchanging, delivering, giving away, or selling a Schedule I or II controlled substance.

Depraved Mind and Indifference to Human Life

The prosecution needs to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you acted with indifference to human life and a depraved mind to convict you of third-degree murder. Indifference to human life means you consciously disregarded the value of someone else’s life. Having a depraved mind, on the other hand, means that you knew but disregarded the risk of serious bodily harm or death to others.

Depravity is a total lack of values, morals, and regard for others. In the criminal justice system, it is used to imply that someone is deemed wicked or morally corrupt.

Penalties for Third-Degree Murder Convictions

Murder in the third degree is usually punishable by 10 to 15 years imprisonment for first-time offenders. The maximum prison time is 25 years. An offender convicted of killing another person by selling faulty Schedule I or II drugs may be required to pay up to $40,000 in fines alongside serving time in prison.

Why You Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer

Representing yourself using theoretical knowledge read from books while facing murder charges, whether in the first or third degree, can prove hard. The reason is that books only give explanations of crimes, penalties for violations, and mandatory court procedures. To a criminal defense lawyer, practicing law involves combining years of experience with knowledge derived from books.

Since each murder case is unique, you need someone with the experience to examine the case particulars and deal with any variables that may come up. A felony lawyer can help you explore options in your criminal case.

The lawyer can negotiate plea deals with prosecutors on your behalf. The lawyer can discuss local court procedures and customs, offer an objective perspective on your situation, and gather evidence and information from investigators and witnesses to build defenses for your case. The lawyer can also help you cope with the feelings that criminal charges bring to people and avoid future run-ins with the Minnesota criminal justice system.

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: State of Minnesota Minnesota State Court Minnesota Federal Court 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals State of Maryland

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