Difference Between First-Degree Murder and Second-Degree Murder

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: April 30, 2023


Difference Between First-Degree Murder and Second-Degree Murder

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First-degree and second-degree murders are two terms that are closely related. Both involve the murder of humans. Both are crimes that have a punishment in the courts of law. However, they are frequently mistaken for one another because they are identical concepts. But, they cannot be used interchangeably since there are some distinct differences between them.

First-degree murder in the majority of courts is an extrajudicial murder. It's deliberate and planned, which means it was executed following careful preparation or "waiting in awe" of the killed person. The majority of states also employ “the "felony murder rule," which states that a person is guilty of first-degree murder if a fatality (even accidental) occurs through the committing of certain violent crimes, like arson or burglary, abduction or rape, or robbery.

Second-degree murder is a deliberate murder that is not planned but is intended to cause bodily harm and displays a complete disregard for life. The exact legal definition for this offense is different following the state. Some states do not employ the term "second-degree murder," most likely; they will divide the murder into two levels and provide the less serious of the two offenses with lighter sentences.

First-Degree Murder vs. Second-Degree Murder

The significant difference between murders of the first and second degree is that a crime is classified as a first-degree crime when premeditated. The perpetrator had planned this crime over a prolonged period before committing the crime. Second-degree murders, on the other hand, reflect the motive of the criminal or defendant toward the victim after they committed the act. First-degree murder is often stated to as offense murder. whereas second-degree murder refers to a death caused by a cruel disdain for human existence.

Difference Between First Degree Murders and Second Degree Murder in Tabular Form

Parameters for Comparison

First Degree Murder

Second Degree Murder


It is usually a case of an act of negligence murder or the deliberate murder of another person.

A deliberate, unintentional murder or death results from a lack of respect for human life.


It is typically scheduled and planned.

It's not planned.


Premeditated Murder, Felony Crime, and the Murder of a Law Enforcement Officer.

        Murders that are knowingly carried out without any premeditation with the intent of causing serious bodily harm, extreme Indifference towards Human Lives, and often Felony murder.


A person who is found accused of murder in the first degree is facing the possibility of spending twenty-five years in prison and then a release under bail.

A 15-year sentence in prison is handed down.


It's more serious.  

It's less important.

What is the First Degree of Murder?

In most places, First-degree murder is defined as the unlawful murder carried out in the course of plotting or "lying in the waiting room" to kill the victim.

Deliberation, malice, and Aforethought are three primary factors that need to be present in murders of the first degree as per state law that classify murders as first, second, and maybe third degree.

First-degree murderers must have a specific motive to kill a person for it to be considered intentional. The reason does not need to be identical to the person who committed the crime. First-degree murder can still be executed when the murderer intends to kill but kills the wrong person.

First-degree murderers have to have acted with intention or "malice before thinking of it," according to various state statutes. The definition of "malice" is a bad mental state or a desire to harm in addition to indifference to human life. States differ in their approaches to the concept of "malice.

Certain kinds of murders are usually classified as first-degree crimes by state law. The killing of a child using excessive force; specific killings that are carried out in a series of violence in the home; killing of a law enforcement official, as well as homicides that are committed during other crimes like arson or rape, burglary, and other violent crimes, instances of this.

Types of First Degree Murders

Premeditated Murder

Definition. The premeditated murder crime demands that the prosecution prove:

You have caused the Death of a person; and

You knew or intended that you could cause the death of another; and

You took action with deliberate intent.

"Premeditation" means that you had a plan or knew that you would kill someone else and considered the possibility of killing before the actual murder. This contemplation or reflection on the decision you made to kill, regardless of the length of time involved, elevates a crime in the second or third degree to a first degree.

The passing of time isn't, by itself, premeditation. There must reflect on your decision to kill. The time you reflected on your decision to commit murder does not need to be extended for you to demonstrate premeditation. The time between the moment you decide your intention to kill and kill might be short.

Felony Murder

Definition. The crime of Felony Murder is committed when someone dies while you are involved in another crime that is a felony. The specific crimes that make you eligible to be charged with Felony Murder are listed in the law, A.R.S. S.S. 13-1105(A)(2). Therefore, the offense that is Felony Murder requires the prosecutor to establish that:

You attempted or committed to do one of the following crimes of a felony:

  • Burglary in the third, second, or the first degree
  • Robbery
  • Acute robbery
  • Armed robbery
  • Transportation or sale of marijuana (involving the statutory threshold amount)
  • The manufacture of a potentially dangerous drug
  • Transport or sale of a potentially hazardous drug (involving the statutory threshold amount
  • Transport or sale of narcotic medicines (involving the statutory threshold amount) --
  • Participating in or using minors in drug-related offenses
  • Kidnapping
  • Kindly abuse (intentional or knowingly) Child abuse (deliberate or knowing)
  • Sexual behavior with minors
  • Sexual assault
  • The molestation of the child
  • Terrorism
  • Arson
  • Escape at the second or first
  • Drive with a gun
  • Unlawful flee from a law enforcement agency and
  1. Through and to further this crime, or in the immediate pursuit of the criminal act, you or another person was responsible for the Death of a person.

A Felony Murder is Not a need intent to cause Death

There is no requirement to have the intention of causing the Death of a person to be accused of Felony Murder. The Death might be an accident in the total sense if the Death occurred during or in the direction of the other criminal offense (or when fleeing immediately from the other crime).

Murder of a Police Officer

Definition. The crime of murder in the first degree of a law enforcement official requires that the prosecution prove:

You were involved in conduct to know that your behavior could result in the death of someone whom you suspect is an officer of the law enforcement agency; and

The officer in charge of law enforcement was on duty.

The elements of this case are pretty straightforward. The critical thing to remember is that the prosecution doesn't need to prove that there was premeditation. For instance, if someone shoots and kills a police officer during a routine road stop, the person is charged with first-level murder of a police officer. The prosecution is not required to show that the shooter had thought about killing the officer before shooting and killing the officer.

What is Second-Degree Crime?

It can be described as an intention-based act of killing which is not premeditated. It is only designed to cause physical harm and shows total disregard for life.

While the phrase "second-degree murder" may not be used in certain justices, they most likely break murder down into two levels and offer the lesser crimes less severe sentences.

These kinds of crimes don't require any prior planning by the culprit. The perpetrator is attempting to cause irreparable harm to the victim in the course of the crime even though he has not intended to do it before.

Second-degree murder occurs when the perpetrator wants to inflict serious bodily harm while knowing that Death might result from the act.

If a victim is killed because of the perpetrator's indifference to the importance of human life, it is the third most prevalent type of second-degree crime that has been identified. In general, a state of extreme indifference is a complete disregard for the possibility that actions could lead to the Death of a person.

Homicides that happen when committing a felony also fall under second-degree murder in certain states. It is important to note that even when one isn't directly involved in the killing, it is possible to be charged with criminal murder.

This is a lesser serious kind of homicide.

Types of Second Degree Murders

Intentional Killings without Premeditation

These kinds of killings do not require any prior planning from the perpetrator. When the crime takes place, the perpetrator plans to behead the victim, but at the time, the killer didn't have a plan to commit murder.

As an example, Adam and Bill are neighbors and have had disagreements about the fence they have between their homes. Adam can pay Bill an appointment to discuss the matter and then impulsively takes a shotgun from above the fireplace. He shot and killed Bill.

Adam did not have a plan to murder Bill when he visited Bill's home that day, and there was no plan in place. The moment Adam pulled the trigger, Adam had a clear intention to murder Bill. Based on these facts, it is likely that prosecutors will accuse him of second-degree murder.

If, however, Adam kills Bill during an unintentional fight with provocations, the crime will likely result in the case of voluntary murder. The theory is that when Adam is motivated into action by the "heat of passion," it will lessen the moral responsibility.

To cause only serious Bodily Injury.

A different scenario that qualifies as second-degree murder is when the perpetrator aims to cause serious bodily injury; however, they are aware that Death could result from the action. In the above scenario, Adam grabs a shovel and strikes Bill on his head using all of his force rather than firing Bill. Although Adam did not intend to murder Bill by hitting him, he had in mind to hit his head with the shovel, knowing that hitting the director had the possibility of Death. Adam murdering Bill in this manner could be considered a crime on the second level.

The extreme indifference of humans to life

The third kind of second-degree murder happens when the victim's death is because of the perpetrator's total disregard for the value of life. In general extreme indifference is a complete disregard for the possibility that the act could result in the Death of a person.

If we go back to the time of Adam and Bill, imagine that instead of striking Bill in the face with a shovel, Adam shoots at his gun and fires toward a crowd of people who have gathered to watch the heated exchange that was going on between Adam as well as Bill. Adam was not trying to hurt anyone, but he also did not think about the harm his actions could inflict on people who were in the crowd. Adam's disregard for human life. If one of Adam's guns caused Death to anyone in the group and killed anyone else, then Adam likely committed a crime in the second level.

Felony Murder

Certain states also consider murders that happen in committing another crime as second-degree murders. On the other hand, others classify these murders as murders in the first level. It's also important to note that individuals can be found guilty of felony murder even though they did not kill anyone personally.

For instance, If Adam and Bill enter the convenience store intending to steal it with guns (which is a crime), however, Adam shoots the store's owner in the process, a jury may decide to find Bill (who did not hit anyone) as a murderer because Bill had been involved in the initial crime at the time that the murder occurred.

Main Differences Between First-Degree and Second-Degree Murders in Points

  • First-degree murder is common and is an intentional homicide or the deliberate killing of a person. In contrast, second-degree murder refers to a planned murder that is not intended or Death resulting from a lack of respect for the life of a human being.
  • First-degree murders are typically premeditated, whereas second-degree murders are not.
  • Premeditated Murder, Felony Murder, and the Murder of a law enforcement officer are all first-degree murders and intentional killings without Prior Planning and With the Intent of causing only severe bodily harm and Insane Disinterest in humans Life. Sometimes Felony Murder is an example of second-degree murder.
  • A person guilty of murder in the first degree faces 25 years in prison before getting released on bail. However, the person guilty of second-degree murder is handed a sentence of 15 years of jail.
  • First-degree murders are generally more severe than second-degree murders.


So, it is clear that murder and homicide are two different terms that have distinct differences between them. The first is a deliberate and deliberate murder of a person. In contrast, second-degree murder refers to the intentional but unplanned end of a person's life. This is why there is the notion of malice in first-degree murder but not the latter.

The motivation behind the murder in first-degree murder is typically greater than in second-degree murder, where the perpetrator may perform a reckless act of the moment with a complete lack of concern for the human condition.

Each of these kinds of murders comes with its categories and classifications. They are both in the court system, considered severe crimes, and both carry punishments.



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"Difference Between First-Degree Murder and Second-Degree Murder." Diffzy.com, 2024. Sat. 24 Feb. 2024. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-first-degree-murder-and-second-degree-murder-202>.

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