18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2502
§ 2502. Murder
(a) Murder of the first degree.–A criminal homicide constitutes murder of the first degree when it is committed by an intentional killing.
(b) Murder of the second degree.–A criminal homicide constitutes murder of the second degree when it is committed while defendant was engaged as a principal or an accomplice in the perpetration of a felony.
(c) Murder of the third degree.–All other kinds of murder shall be murder of the third degree. Murder of the third degree is a felony of the first degree.
Murder is the most serious criminal charge someone can face in Pennsylvania. It is defined as the unlawful killing of another human without justification. A murder charge can result in prison terms of up to life, or the death penalty.
Murder is the only crime in the country subject to capital punishment outside of treason and espionage.
Like other forms of homicide, Pennsylvania law categorizes murder into three broad legal terms: 1st Degree, 2nd Degree Murder or Felony-Murder and 3rd degree, all other types of murder.
“Capital murder” is any murder punishable by imposition of the death penalty.
First-degree murder can be considered capital murder in the state of Pennsylvania depending on the circumstances surrounding the crime.
Capital murder charges are more likely when certain aggravating factors are present.
A suspect might face capital murder charges in the presence of 1 or more of the following aggravating factors:
Aggravating circumstances. — Aggravating circumstances shall be limited to the following:
(1) The victim was a firefighter, peace officer, public servant concerned in official detention, as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 5121(relating to escape), judge of any court in the unified judicial system, the Attorney General of Pennsylvania, a deputy attorney general, district attorney, assistant district attorney, member of the General Assembly, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Auditor General, State Treasurer, State law enforcement official, local law enforcement official, Federal law enforcement official or person employed to assist or assisting any law enforcement official in the performance of his duties, who was killed in the performance of his duties or as a result of his official position.
(2) The defendant paid or was paid by another person or had contracted to pay or be paid by another person or had conspired to pay or be paid by another person for the killing of the victim.
(3) The victim was being held by the defendant for ransom or reward, or as a shield or hostage.
(4) The death of the victim occurred while defendant was engaged in the hijacking of an aircraft.
(5) The victim was a prosecution witness to a murder or other felony committed by the defendant and was killed for the purpose of preventing his testimony against the defendant in any grand jury or criminal proceeding involving such offenses.
(6) The defendant committed a killing while in the perpetration of a felony.
(7) In the commission of the offense the defendant knowingly created a grave risk of death to another person in addition to the victim of the offense.
(8) The offense was committed by means of torture.
(9) The defendant has a significant history of felony convictions involving the use or threat of violence to the person.
(10) The defendant has been convicted of another Federal or State offense, committed either before or at the time of the offense at issue, for which a sentence of life imprisonment or death was imposable or the defendant was undergoing a sentence of life imprisonment for any reason at the time of the commission of the offense.
(11) The defendant has been convicted of another murder committed in any jurisdiction and committed either before or at the time of the offense at issue.
(12) The defendant has been convicted of voluntary manslaughter, as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 2503 (relating to voluntary manslaughter), or a substantially equivalent crime in any other jurisdiction, committed either before or at the time of the offense at issue.
(13) The defendant committed the killing or was an accomplice in the killing, as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 306(c) (relating to liability for conduct of another; complicity), while in the perpetration of a felony under the provisions of the act of April 14, 1972 (P.L. 233, No. 64), known as The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act,1and punishable under the provisions of 18 Pa.C.S. § 7508 (relating to drug trafficking sentencing and penalties).
(14) At the time of the killing, the victim was or had been involved, associated or in competition with the defendant in the sale, manufacture, distribution or delivery of any controlled substance or counterfeit controlled substance in violation of The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act or similar law of any other state, the District of Columbia or the United States, and the defendant committed the killing or was an accomplice to the killing as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 306(c), and the killing resulted from or was related to that association, involvement or competition to promote the defendant’s activities in selling, manufacturing, distributing or delivering controlled substances or counterfeit controlled substances.
(15) At the time of the killing, the victim was or had been a nongovernmental informant or had otherwise provided any investigative, law enforcement or police agency with information concerning criminal activity and the defendant committed the killing or was an accomplice to the killing as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 306(c), and the killing was in retaliation for the victim’s activities as a nongovernmental informant or in providing information concerning criminal activity to an investigative, law enforcement or police agency.
(16) The victim was a child under 12 years of age.
(17) At the time of the killing, the victim was in her third trimester of pregnancy or the defendant had knowledge of the victim’s pregnancy.
(18) At the time of the killing the defendant was subject to a court order restricting in any way the defendant’s behavior toward the victim pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S. Ch. 61 (relating to protection from abuse) or any other order of a court of common pleas or of the minor judiciary designed in whole or in part to protect the victim from the defendant.
First-degree murder is when someone intentionally kills another human being with premeditation. Examples of intentional homicide might be killing by lying in wait, using poison, or other types of deliberate, premeditated acts.
A premeditated murder is when someone plans to kill another person with adequate time to consider the consequences. If someone plans to kill another person, and then follows through, the killing is premeditated.
In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a first-degree murder conviction is punishable by either life in prison without the possibility of parole, or the death penalty.
Second-degree murder is when the defendant acted as either the principal or accomplice in a felony that resulted in a death.
If someone robs a gas station and a cashier or customer gets killed during the robbery, it is second-degree murder. This falls under the Felony-Murder Rule.
Someone can face second degree murder charges if they kill another while committing a felony, even if he/she did not kill the victim personally. The Felony Murder rule can even apply when a person dies due to the actions of a third party.
To be charged with Felony Murder, the perpetrator should have been able to foresee that death might result from the original crime.
Second degree murder is punishable by mandatory life in prison without parole.
Third-degree murder is another broad term covering all other types of murder offenses. Third degree murder is a first degree felony punishable by forty (40) years in prison.
If someone shoots another person with a firearm and kills him/her, without intending to do so, and if the killing was not committed in the course of a felony, it is third-degree murder.
Attempted murder is when one person intends to kill another, and attempts to carry out this intent, but fails. Attempted murder is another very serious criminal offense that carries severe penalties.
Both intent and action must be present for attempted murder charges—the perpetrator must intend to take the life of someone, and then take ‘direct action’ to accomplish this goal.
Direct action goes beyond making preparations and must extend to committing the crime.
Preparations might entail making specific plans, or talking about one’s plans with others. Perpetration entails steps that put the plan into action, including paying someone to carry it out, to stalking, luring or ambushing a victim.
Attempted murder charges cannot be proven if no intent to commit a murder can be established.