The Difference Between First- and Second-Degree Murder

Difference between first and second degree murder

The main difference between first- and second-degree murder is the state of mind of the murderer at the time of the killing.

The line between first- and second-degree murder may not always be clear, but any murder conviction means facing prison time and having a permanent mark on your record that will affect your job, housing, social opportunities and benefits forever. This should not be taken lightly. It takes skills, knowledge, and aggressive representation from a defense lawyer to effectively defend a client facing first- or second-degree murder charges.

At Wolfe & Stec, Ltd., our DuPage County homicide and murder defense attorneys have years of experience advocating for individuals facing serious criminal charges, including homicide, murder, attempted murder, solicitation for murder for hire and more. We understand the seriousness of your situation and offer aggressive representation for clients facing criminal charges. We know the courts and the criminal justice system, how to plea bargain and negotiate for lesser charges or dismissal, and we recognize when to take your case to trial. When we take on a criminal case, we gather information quickly and look at all viable defense options. Based on the facts, we make a decision about the best legal strategy. We have been successful helping others in your situation and will do everything possible to vigorously fight for you.

With office locations in Woodridge and Chicago, we represent clients throughout the entire Chicagoland area. Call our DuPage County murder defense lawyers today at 630-305-0222 to schedule a free and confidential initial consultation.

What Does First Degree Murder Mean?

First-degree murder is the most serious homicide charge and is defined as murder committed while intending to kill or do great bodily harm to another person without lawful justification, while knowing that the act would cause death or that there would be a strong probability of death or great bodily harm. It is also considered a first-degree murder if a defendant commits a forcible felony, such as armed robbery, and that act results in someone’s death.

Therefore, first-degree murder falls into one of the following categories:

(1) Intentional murder is when the defendant intends to kill or do great bodily harm or knows the acts will cause death (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1));
(2) Strong-probability murder is when the defendant knows the acts create a strong probability of death or great bodily harm (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(2)); and
(3) Felony murder is when the defendant commits or attempts to commit a forcible felony and, during the commission of that felony, a death occurs (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(3)).

What are the penalties for first-degree murder?

On March 9, 2011, Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law a bill ending the death penalty in Illinois. Since then, the penalty for a Class 1 felony of first-degree murder can range from a 20-year sentence to life in prison. Depending on the circumstances, the murder can be charged as a Class X felony, which carries a punishment of life in prison, and the entire sentence must be served.

Defending against first -degree murder

Our murder attorneys know the importance of building an effective defense for murder charges and getting first-degree murder charges reduced or dismissed. When you contact us, we will listen to your version of what happened and explore all defense options, including whether:

  • There was lack of intent to commit murder
  • Use of force was justifiable in the situation
  • The murder was committed as an act of self-defense
  • There was lack of knowledge that the act would lead to great bodily harm
  • The case involved compulsion, entrapment, or necessity
  • There was Insanity or incapacity or an intoxicated or drugged condition at the time of the murder.

What does second-degree murder mean?

Second-degree murder is when someone knowingly and purposefully kills someone but does so with mitigating factors that impact their state of mind at the time of the murder. It is considered a lesser homicide charge than first-degree murder because of lack of premeditation. Under Illinois law (720 ILCS 5/9-2(a)(1) & (2), it occurs when the defendant commits first-degree murder but there are one of two mitigating factors present:

(1) The defendant acted under a sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation by the victim. To be seriously provoked, the provoking conduct must be something that would cause any reasonable person to become impassioned; or
(2) The defendant subjectively believed that he or she was acting in self-defense, but the belief was unreasonable.

The defense is responsible for showing proof of either of the mitigating circumstances.

Examples include murder committed:

  • in the heat of passion (such as finding your spouse with a lover)
  • after witnessing traumatic events (such as the death of a child)
  • while believing the killing was justified.

Punishments for second degree murder may carry a sentence of 4 to 20 years in prison, but probation is possible, depending on the details of the incident.

Defending against second-degree murder

Defending second-degree murder is based on first-degree murder. Only after the prosecutor has proven first-degree murder can it be argued that a mitigating factor is present so the conviction should be reduced from first-degree murder to second-degree murder. To convict a defendant of either first- or second-degree murder, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the elements which constitute the crime of first-degree murder, and then the defense may show mitigating factors to reduce the charge and the punishment.

If a jury finds that the defendant committed a killing because of feeling they were acting under an unreasonable self-defense or under a sudden and intense passion resulting from a serious provocation, then a murder charge turns into a second-degree conviction.

Under 720 ILCS 5/9-2(b), Illinois courts recognize four categories of serious provocation:

(1) Substantial physical injury or assault
(2) Mutual quarrel or combat
(3) Illegal arrest
(4) Adultery with the offender’s spouse.

Defenses for second-degree murder include:

  • Lack of intent
  • Lack of knowledge
  • Insanity
  • Intoxication
  • Self-defense.

Put Your Trust In Us — Call Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. for a Free Consultation.

When you are accused of a murder in Illinois, you need to hire the best criminal defense attorney you can find. Your case may seem impossible, but with skillful representation you have a chance. Remember, the law places a heavy burden on the government, and you have to be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The criminal defense lawyers at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. are skilled trial lawyers who believe each case is unique, with its own set of circumstances. When you hire us, we will conduct a thorough investigation of the case so we can determine the best strategy to pursue. Our attorneys have expert witnesses and legal resources we use on complex criminal cases, and we will use our knowledge to your advantage. As trial lawyers, we are highly skilled at effectively negotiating on our clients’ behalf, and we will work hand in hand with our clients throughout the criminal process. Our goal is always to minimize the negative impact of the situation and to focus on protecting your freedoms, liberties and rights.

Don’t delay — contact us for your free consultation today at 630-305-0222. Our Illinois drug crimes lawyers represent clients in DuPage County, Naperville, Aurora, Wheaton, Downers Grove and Bolingbrook, Illinois. Your free initial consultation can be scheduled at either of our offices, located in Woodridge and Chicago.

Attorney Marc Wolfe

Marc Wolfe has been representing clients in criminal matters in Chicago and the entire State of Illinois for over 30 years. Mr. Wolfe has tried over 300 cases to verdict and represents clients facing investigation or prosecution for a broad range of state and federal criminal offenses, including murder, embezzlement, sexual abuse, drugs, marijuana and white collar crimes. [ Attorney Bio ]