LawThe Difference Between First, Second, and Third Degree Murders

The Difference Between First, Second, and Third Degree Murders

You might know that murder is a dreadful crime. However, there are different legal terms for this crime. In fact, you can find different categories; first-degree, second-degree, and third-degree. Now, there are so many questions regarding these categories.

If you have the same questions, you will get all answers by the end of this article. After doing deep research, we get all the details about these murders. In this guide, we will share the critical difference between first, second, and third-degree murders.

The sentencing and penalties depend on the type of murder it is. Well, in that case, you will get all the details in this guide. Keep reading to explore more about the classification.

what is first degree murder

First-Degree Murder

According to America’s legal system, first-degree murder is the most severe one. Any murder committed by malice aforethought can be classified as first-degree murder. Simply put, the crime is committed with no regard for the victim. In that case, the unlawful killing can be considered in this category.

Element of First-Degree Murder

Well, there are several elements of first-degree murder. If you want to know the in-depth detail, you have to understand the element first. To declare a crime as first-degree murder, the law system has to check the following elements:

Intent — Well, this means when a criminal act is performed with complete criminal intent. In that case, the situation can be different but the criminal has no regard for this act. For example, it can be kidnapping or robbery. In simple words, the criminal commits this crime to end the life of the victim.

Malice Aforethought — As we noted before, most first-degree murder is committed with malice aforethought. Well, it’s a legal term that can be used when a murder is executed with the intent to kill the victim. 

Premeditation — In simple words, most first-degree murders are planned or purposeful. In fact, the murderer can have mental disorders as well. In that case, the criminal plans out the murder carefully. Well, it can also include purchasing a weapon for murder.

First-Degree Murder Examples

As we explained the element of first-degree murder, you need to understand the types of this murder. In the following list, we will share the three types of first-degree murder. Let’s find out:

Premeditated murder — In this case, the criminal planned out everything and committed the crime with the intent to kill the victim. Simply put, the killer has a strong desire to end the victim’s life in this situation.

Felony murder — This type of first-degree murder happens when someone gets killed or injured by a criminal during another felony. Without any doubt, it’s a very dangerous crime. For example, you can take kidnapping, rape, arson, or robbery.

Specific means — When a first-degree murder happens with a heinous method, it comes in this category. Well, this type is rare compared to the other two types. For example, it can be a murder while denoting a bomb or a drive-by shooting.

Penalties For First-Degree Murder

You see, first-degree murder is severe. That means this type of crime has the most severe punishments as well. In that case, penalties and sentences can vary by a different state. However, the death penalty or life imprisonment is the highest charge for any crime. Here, the punishment can vary according to different factors. For example, if the defendant is mentally ill or a minor, they will receive lesser penalties. Well, severe penalties are given to those who had committed first-degree murder while doing another crime such as kidnapping or rape. On the other hand, it can be the same for someone who has past records.

what is second degree murder

Second-Degree Murder

Well, second-degree murder is less severe than first-degree. When an unlawful killing of a human being happens without planning, it comes in the category of second-degree murder. The reason for this situation can vary. It’s not necessary for the killer to plan out the crime beforehand. Well, malice aforethought is also related to second-degree murder.

Elements of Second-Degree Murder

Just like first-degree, second-degree murder also has some elements. If you want to understand the examples and penalties of this type, you have to start with the elements. In the following section, we will share elements of second-degree murder:

Without premeditation —  As we noted before, second-degree murder lacks premeditation or planning. In simple words, this type of murder is the result of a certain situation or impulsive behavior. 

Intent to harm — Well, you can understand that this type of murder isn’t planned by the killer beforehand. That’s why most of the time the killer doesn’t have the intent to kill the victim. However, it can be intent to harm someone physically.

Felony murder — Second-degree murder can also happen because of a felony. Well, when the criminal is committing another crime like robbery or kidnapping, it can be classified as a felony murder too. That’s why this type of murder has different laws.

Second-Degree Murder Examples

There are several examples of second-degree murder. To understand everything clearly, you need to explore second-degree murder examples. In the following section, we are sharing these things. Let’s find out:

Intentional murder but lacks premeditation — When a murder is committed without planning or premeditation. This type of murder results from financial gain, rage, and other issues. There are so many states in the US that have a separate law for this type of crime.

Involuntary manslaughter — Accidental manslaughter is a situation which someone is killed by accident. Even though the intent of harming the victim is still valid, the murder isn’t intentional. For example, if someone pushes the victim out of rage and it causes death, it will be involuntary manslaughter.

Indifference murder — This is a situation when the killer takes a step and the murder is the result of indifference to others’ life. For example, when the criminal takes an extreme step such as shooting in a crowd.

Penalties For Second-Degree Murder

Second-degree murder has different types. So, the punishment will vary depending on different factors. On the other hand, it can also vary by state. However, in most cases, a second-degree murderer can receive life imprisonment of 15 years.

Besides this, the punishment can depend on the seriousness of the situation, age of the criminal, past records, and mental health. In that case, if the murderer accidentally killed someone and doesn’t have any past criminal records, it can reduce the punishment. The brutality of murder results in a harsher penalty.

what is third degree murder

Third-Degree Murder

By reading this article, you can understand that third-degree murder is the least severe one in this list. In fact, most American states don’t have a particular law for third-degree murder. However, this type of murder is a thing in three states; Pennsylvania, Florida, and Minnesota. 

Generally, this type of crime isn’t planned and committed with the intent of physical harm.That’s the reason why most people get confused between second and third-degree murders. Well, they are quite similar but we will figure out the differences here.

Elements of Third-Degree Murder

As you can see, it’s challenging to understand the difference between third and second-degree murders. However, it will be clear when you study the elements of third-degree murder. Let’s find out:

Intent to harm the victim — The criminal commits this crime with the intent to harm someone rather than the intent to kill them. Intent to kill someone, both with premeditation or without premeditation is considered first and second-degree murder.

No premeditation – Besides the intent to harm the victim, the killer commits this crime without premeditation. Well, in that case, the killer can get involved in other minor crimes or felonies.

Third-Degree Murder Examples

Yes, third-degree murder only exists in three states’ law systems. If you want to know more, you have to understand these states’ rules. Let’s find out about some examples of third-degree murder in the next section.

Indifference murder —  Pennsylvania and Minnesota make depraved indifference murder a third-degree murder instead of second-degree murder. It happens as a result of a reckless act of the killer, even though they know it can cause the death of the victim.

Felony murder with non-violence — This law is available in Florida when someone kills a human being without the intention. Well, the crime will be considered third-degree murder when the killer is involved in other non-violence offences.

Drug delivery — There is a law in Minnesota where a crime will be considered third-degree murder when the killer provides the victim drugs, both directly and indirectly. Pennsylvania also has this case with a separate crime.

Penalties For Third-Degree Murder

The punishment for third-degree murder depends on several factors, especially the place where the crime was committed. On the other hand, the severity of punishment also depends on these things. However, the killer will receive fewer penalties compared to the other two murder types. Every state has different laws for third-degree murder:

  • Life imprisonment of 15 years and $10,000 fines in Florida
  • Life imprisonment of 25 years and $40,000 fines in Minnesota
  • Life imprisonment in Pennsylvania

Even though third-degree murder is less severe in this list, it has severe punishment. However, the punishment depends on the state’s law system.

Key Difference Between First, Second, and Third-Degree Murders

Understanding the basics of first, second, and third-degree murders is very important. By far, we shared some essential details about these murders. Now, it’s time to understand the key difference between these three crimes. We will explain everything with two major points. Keep reading the following section to clear everything regarding these classifications:

Severity of Crime

As you can see, first-degree murder is the most severe one. So, the penalty is severe too. Most defendants receive a life imprisonment in this case. In fact, some states also consider the death penalty for first-degree murder. However, things can change in certain situations. For example, if the killer is minor or mentally ill, the system will decrease punishment.

When we are talking about second-degree murder, we have to consider some crucial factors. As the murder is committed with the intent of injuring the victim, the severity is less compared to first-degree murder. On the other hand, third-degree is a relatively less severe crime compared to the other two types. 

Severity of Punishment

You see, the severity of punishment depends on the seriousness of the crime. Just because it’s first-degree murder, it doesn’t mean that the killer will get the death penalty. As we mentioned before, a defendant can receive less punishment in certain situations.

Just like first-degree murder, second-degree murder’s punishment also depends on several factors. If the killer is a minor or doesn’t have a past criminal record, the punishment level can decrease. 

For third-degree murder, the punishment level is less compared to other types. However, third-degree murder can also have severe penalties. It depends on a state’s law system and the seriousness of the crime situation.


Now, you can understand the key difference between first, second, and third-degree murders. However, the law can change with the state when we are talking about the US. If you need to know more, you can visit the official website of that state’s law system and get all the details. It will help you understand the classification of murders and penalties. For more details, you can also contact a legal expert.


Q: What is the lowest sentence for 1st-degree murder?

A sentence or penalty depends on various factors. However, the lowest sentence for first-degree murder is can be a minimum of 10 years in prison.

Q: How many degrees are in murders?

The classification of murders can depend on the US state’s legal system. First-degree murder is considered with the intent of killing the victim while second-degree murder is unplanned. In some states, you can also find third-degree murder law.

Q: What is the highest degree of crime?

Felony is the highest degree of crime in the US. Both first-degree and second-degree murder can be related to a felony. And the penalty law can be different too.

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