Pennsylvania was the first to categorize murder into differing degrees. While murder is always certainly a serious offense—being the killing of another human being with malice—some murder is more serious than others, and that’s reflected by the differing definitions and penalties Pennsylvania gives to first-, second-, and third-degree murder.


First-degree murder is the “intentional killing” of another by means of poison, lying in wait, or some other kind of “willful, deliberate and premeditated killing.” It is a crime that is punishable either by death or a mandatory term of life in prison.


Second-degree murder is the killing of another human being “in the perpetration of a felony.” Even if one lacks the “intent to kill,” they may be responsible for the death of another if that person died while the actor was engaged in a felony (personally or as an accomplice). In this regard, second-degree murder is often thought of as a harsh crime because one doesn’t need to have the intent to kill (like first-degree murder), still they’re subject to a mandatory term of life in prison if convicted.


Third-degree murder is “all other kinds of murder.” Defined as such, it generally involves the killing of another under circumstances that demonstrate extreme recklessness or a disregard for the risk of death. Because the intention to kill is absent, as is the engagement in the “perpetration of a felony,” the penalty for third-degree murder is a maximum possible sentence of 40 years in prison.


If you or a loved one is charged with murder, call Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney, Ryan H. James, who has tried and argued these cases with successful results.  Attorney James can be personally reached at 412-977-1827, or by e-mail at ryan@rhjameslaw.com