The U.S. Code defines murder as “the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought.” This Code separates murder into two categories: murder in the first degree and murder in the second degree. Murder may be charged as the lesser offense of manslaughter.
If charged with murder, the degree of seriousness is dependent upon the mindset of the person who committed the act. Murder in the first degree includes every murder perpetrated by poison, lying in wait, or any other kind of willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated killing.
Murder in the first degree also includes killings committed in the perpetration, or the attempted perpetration of any arson, escape, kidnapping, treason, espionage, sabotage, aggravated sexual abuse or sexual abuse, burglary, or robbery. All other murders are considered murder in the second degree. So if the killer lacked malice or did not premeditate his act, he is guilty of a lesser degree and may be guilty of manslaughter.
An accidental killing may be prosecuted as murder, though rare, if the act causing death was done with a reckless disregard for the safety of others. A drunk driver who causes a traffic accident resulting in death can, in many states, be prosecuted for manslaughter.
Depending on varying state criminal laws, those guilty of murder in the first degree may be sentenced to life in prison or death, and those guilty of second degree murder can be imprisoned for any amount of years to life imprisonment.
Defenses to murder
A common defense to murder is self-defense. However, most state s require that the force actually used to kill the other by the defendant was not more then the force reasonably necessary to fend off the actual threat of death.
A common mitigating defense to murder is that the defendant did not act with the specific intent to kill. Most often this means that the death was an accident or an act of ordinary carelessness. Another mitigating defense is some times called diminished capacity or killing in the heat of passion. This defense often attempts to prove that the defendant acted in the heat of passion such that the defendant could not reasonably control his actions under the circumstances.