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Murder and Homicide

Perhaps the most serious crime that can be committed in Pennsylvania, or anywhere for that matter, is homicide. If you have been accused of homicide, the criminal defense attorneys at Kope and Associates can help you understand the charges against you and will provide powerful and aggressive legal representation to help you achieve the most positive results possible for your case.

There are different classifications of homicide, first degree murder, second degree murder, and third degree murder. There are also classifications for voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, as well as homicide by vehicle. A person convicted of homicide can face up to life in prison and even the death penalty in some instances.


While the Crimes Code does not specifically define murder, the Pennsylvania courts have adopted the common-law definition of murder as the unlawful killing of another with malice aforethought, expressed or implied. The Crimes Code classifies murder into murder of the first degree, murder of the second degree, and murder of the third degree.

Murder One (Murder of the First Degree)

A criminal homicide constitutes murder of the first degree when it is committed by an intentional killing. The words “intentional killing” mean killing by means of poison, by lying in wait, or by any other kind of willful, premeditated, and deliberate killing.

To obtain a conviction for first-degree murder, the Commonwealth must demonstrate that: (1) a human being was unlawfully killed; (2) the defendant did the killing; and (3) the killing was done in an intentional, deliberate, and premeditated manner, i.e., the defendant acted with a specific intent to kill. In order to support a finding of first degree murder, the evidence must show that the killing was a malicious one accompanied by a specific intent to kill. In other words, to establish murder in the first degree, the Commonwealth must not only prove malice, but must also prove that the defendant specifically intended to kill.

It is the element of a willful, premeditated, and deliberate intent to kill that distinguishes first-degree murder from all other forms of criminal homicide. In contrast, the intent necessary to establish second degree murder is constructively inferred from the malice incident to the perpetration of an underlying felony.

Murder Two (Murder of the Second Degree): Felony Murder

  A criminal homicide constitutes murder of the second degree when it is committed while the defendant is engaged as a principal or an accomplice in the perpetration of a felony. In other words, second degree murder is the killing of another with malice during the commission of a felony. This provision does not require that a homicide be foreseeable; rather, it is only necessary that the accused engaged in conduct as a *principal or an accomplice in the perpetration of a felony.

* The word “principal” means a person who is the actor or perpetrator of the crime, and the phrase “perpetration of a felony” means the act of the defendant in engaging in, or being an accomplice in the commission of, or an attempt to commit, or flight after committing, or attempting to commit robbery, rape, or deviate sexual intercourse by force or threat of force, arson, burglary or kidnapping.

Under the felony-murder rule, where a killing occurs in the commission of a felony, all who participate therein are equally guilty of murder.

Murder Three (Murder of the Third Degree)

Under the Crimes Code, third degree murder occurs when a person commits a killing which is neither intentional nor committed during the perpetration of a felony, but contains the requisite malice. Basically, under Crimes Code, all other kinds of murder shall be murder of the third degree.

It is also murder of the third degree when a person administers, dispenses, delivers, gives, prescribes, sells, or distributes any controlled substance or counterfeit controlled substance and another person dies as a result of using the substance.


Voluntary Manslaughter

Voluntary manslaughter is the intentional killing of another, without malice aforethought, but in a sudden heat of passion caused by adequate legal provocation, before sufficient time has elapsed for the blood to cool and reason to resume control of the actor's conduct. Stated differently, in order to reduce a homicide to voluntary manslaughter, the killing must have been committed under the influence of sudden passion which places the defendant beyond the control of reason and which is due to legally adequate provocation.

A person who commits heat of passion voluntary manslaughter must not have been able to think clearly enough to control his or her actions as a result of an objectively serious provocation. “Heat of passion” includes emotions such as anger, rage, sudden resentment, or terror, which renders the mind incapable of reason.

  A person also commits voluntary manslaughter if, at the time of the killing, he or she believes the circumstances to be such that, if they existed, would justify the killing even though his or her belief is unreasonable.

Involuntary Manslaughter

A person is guilty of involuntary manslaughter when as a direct result of the doing of an unlawful act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner, or the doing of a lawful act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner, he or she causes the death of another person.

Homicide By Vehicle

Non-DUI Related

Any person who recklessly or with gross negligence causes the death of another person while engaged in the violation of any law of Pennsylvania or municipal ordinance applying to the operation or use of a vehicle or to the regulation of traffic (except the provision relating to driving under influence of alcohol or controlled substance) is guilty of homicide by vehicle, a felony of the third degree when the violation is the cause of death.

What distinguishes non-DUI related vehicular homicide from the crime of DUI-related vehicular homicide is that the non-DUI related version is a felony of the third degree (as opposed to felony of the second degree) and there is no minimum term of imprisonment.

DUI related

Any person who unintentionally causes the death of another person as the result of a violation of the provision relating to driving under influence of alcohol or controlled substance and who is convicted of violating such provision is guilty of a felony of the second degree when the violation is the cause of death. The sentencing court must order the person to serve a minimum term of imprisonment of not less than three years. A consecutive three-year term of imprisonment must be imposed for each victim whose death is the result of such violation.


Clients of Kope and Associates are assured of respectful treatment at the law firm. They do not judge their clients. Rather, they listen carefully as they prepare to advocate vigorously on their clients’ behalf in state or federal courts.

The lawyers at Kope and Associates are former prosecutors and/or accomplished courtroom litigators. They are confident in their ability to help their clients obtain the most favorable possible outcomes given the specific facts and circumstances.

A successful defense strategy in a murder or manslaughter case will differ greatly depending on the facts. Perhaps it can be shown that you lacked the capacity to have the specific intent to kill someone, and did not, in fact, know right from wrong as a result of temporary insanity at the time of the incident. Contact Kope and Associates to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation and preliminary case evaluation if you are under investigation or have been charged with murder or manslaughter.

If you have been charged with homicide in Harrisburg, York or surrounding areas of Pennsylvania, please contact Kope and Associates as soon as possible for a free consultation. They are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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