People use the word murder to describe the unlawful taking of the life of another. While this use is correct in terms of the general use of the word, the unlawful taking of the life of another is actually homicide. Murder is a degree of homicide, which usually involves an element of malice aforethought or intention. Generally, jurisdictions have multiple degrees of homicide, some of which are considered murder.

Degrees of Murder

The general degrees of murder include: capital murder, first-degree murder, and second-degree murder. Other unlawful killings that do not include the intent requirements of those crimes are generally charged as homicides. Capital murder is any murder that has the potential of triggering the death penalty, though in death-penalty states prosecutors have the discretion to charge a murder as a capital or non-capital offense. First degree murder includes murders where there is premeditation or malice aforethought. In addition, many states consider some homicides to automatically qualify as first-degree murders. These murders include those committed during the commission of another crime, the killing of law enforcement officers, and murders committed as a result or at the conclusion of a kidnapping or sexual assault. Second-degree murder is a murder that is committed without premeditation. These murders are often described as occurring in the “heat of passion” such as during a fight or quarrel, but are without the justifications that would serve as a defense to murder charges. Homicide charges are generally reserved for instances where a person’s reckless or negligent unlawful paper led to a death.

Finally, in some jurisdictions, an offender may be convicted of murder even if he or she did not personally commit the homicide. Any person involved in a criminal conspiracy is considered legally responsible for crimes committed during the course of the conspiracy, even if the crime was not a goal of the conspiracy.

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