What Is the Legal Difference Between First- and Second-Degree Murders?

Most people confuse first and second-degree murder as similar terms. Both include murdering a person. Though they sound similar, the charges differ in the court.

Compared to the 1st-degree murders meaning, the 2nd-degree murders have notable differences. Let’s know the legal difference between first and second-degree murders in this article. Also, understand the sentences for these offences with a comparison chart.

What Are Different Types of Murder?

There are three different types of murder which are first, second and third-degree murder. Let’s know them in detail.

What is First-Degree Murder?

First-degree murder is an illegal homicide which is predetermined. Three important factors for first-degree murders are:

  • Deliberation
  • Aforethought
  • Maliciousness

The definition of ‘malice’ differs in every state. So, you need to have a motive to commit first-degree murder. Additionally, you will suffer from charges even when you plan to kill someone but end up with another.

There are different types of classifications of first-degree murder. For example, death due to domestic violence, killing a law enforcement person, rape, burglary, etc.

The charges for first-degree murder are very serious. The prosecutor can give a sentence of about 25 years of life imprisonment. There’s no chance of getting a release within this time.


A person D wants to harm F. So, D plans a full-proof plan on a specific day. Finally, the day comes, and D executes the plan. Eventually, F dies, and D becomes a first-degree murderer.

What is Second-Degree Murder?

Second-degree murder is a homicide that has no forethought. In most cases, the victim gets hurt unintentionally. A murderer could cause substantial damage while fighting.

In different states, a homicide that occurs for a felony is second-degree murder. You might not be directly connected to murder but still get charges for second-degree murder.

The charges for second-degree murder have no parole. The prosecutors can give a sentence of 15 years. Also, it might move up to 25 years based on the severity of the murder.


Suppose two persons, D and F, start arguing, which turns into a fight. At one point, D pushes F and F bangs on the head. Immediately, F dies and D becomes a second-degree murderer.

What is Third-Degree Murder?

Third-degree murder and manslaughter are the same. Moreover, it is completely different from first-degree murder. In most cases, the third-degree murders are accidental. The murderer has no intention but ends up hurting the victim.

There are two main types of third-degree murder:

  • Unlawful acts
  • Criminal negligence

The charges for third-degree murder vary on the severity of the accident. As the act is minor, the charges are fine based. Also, there are no imprisonment charges. However, you might turn up to 4 years of imprisonment if the accident is too severe.


D and F are friends who’re partying. At one point, D pushes F, and F starts drowning. Eventually, D would turn into a third-degree murderer.

Comparison between First And Second Degree Murders

CategoryFirst Degree MurderSecond Degree Murder
MeaningIntentional, premeditated murderUnintentional Murder
Type Felony, premeditated or law enforcement murderNot premeditated slaughters or causing bodily harm
Severity More seriousLess serious
Planning Premediated and plannedUnintentional and unplanned
Punishment 25 years of imprisonment15 years of imprisonment

What Is the Legal Difference Between First And Second Degree Murders?

There are many differences between first and second-degree murders. As the differences are minimal, you must focus on them very carefully.

First-degree murder is intentional and premeditated. This means that the murderer had full intentions to kill the other person. In first-degree murder, the murderer will plot everything before executing the plan. Also, you should count felony murders as first-degree murders. 

However, second-degree murder is unintentional and unplanned. In second-degree murder, the murderer has no plan to kill the victim. Such acts occur mostly reckless.

Some first-degree murder examples are robbery, rape, kidnapping, terrorism, etc. On the other hand, an example of second-degree murder is when a murderer wants to injure but ends up killing the victim.

Final Verdict

Therefore, we can see the legal difference between first and second-degree murder. Also, these murder types, categories and examples vary between themselves. However, both murders are crimes, so you would receive the charges accordingly. And never hesitate to consult a lawyer if you have been wrongfully charged with murder.

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Christophe Rude

Christophe Rude

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