Murder in the second degree (New York Penal Law 125.25): A person is guilty of murder in the second degree when:
- With intent to cause the death of another person, he causes the death of such person or of a third person; except that in any prosecution under this subdivision, it is an affirmative defense that:
- The defendant acted under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance for which there was a reasonable explanation or excuse, the reasonableness of which is to be determined from the viewpoint of a person in the defendant’s situation under the circumstances as the defendant believed them to be. Nothing contained in this paragraph shall constitute a defense to a prosecution for, or preclude a conviction of, manslaughter in the first degree or any other crime; or
- The defendant’s conduct consisted of causing or aiding, without the use of duress or deception, another person to commit suicide. Nothing contained in this paragraph shall constitute a defense to a prosecution for, or preclude a conviction of, manslaughter in the second degree or any other crime; or
- Under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life, he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person, and thereby causes the death of another person; or
- Acting either alone or with one or more other persons, he commits or attempts to commit robbery, burglary, kidnapping, arson, rape in the first degree, criminal sexual act in the first degree, sexual abuse in the first degree, aggravated sexual abuse, escape in the first degree, or escape in the second degree, and, in the course of and in furtherance of such crime or of immediate flight therefrom, he, or another participant, if there be any, causes the death of a person other than one of the participants; except that in any prosecution under this subdivision, in which the defendant was not the only participant in the underlying crime, it is an affirmative defense that the defendant:
- Did not commit the homicidal act or in any way solicit, request, command, importune, cause or aid the commission thereof; and
- Was not armed with a deadly weapon, or any instrument, article or substance readily capable of causing death or serious physical injury and of a sort not ordinarily carried in public places by law-abiding persons; and
- Had no reasonable ground to believe that any other participant was armed with such a weapon, instrument, article or substance; and
- Had no reasonable ground to believe that any other participant intended to engage in conduct likely to result in death or serious physical injury; or
- Under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life, and being eighteen years old or more the defendant recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of serious physical injury or death to another person less than eleven years old and thereby causes the death of such person; or
- Being eighteen years old or more, while in the course of committing rape in the first, second or third degree, criminal sexual act in the first, second or third degree, sexual abuse in the first degree, aggravated sexual abuse in the first, second, third or fourth degree, or incest in the first, second or third degree, against a person less than fourteen years old, he or she intentionally causes the death of such person.
Murder in the second degree is a class A-I felony.
Second degree murder usually applies to cases in which someone may have intended to kill another, but did not have time to plan it (a crime of passion). For example, a husband that flies into a rage and kills his wife when he comes home to discover her in bed with another man could be a second degree murder. Some states also apply the label of second degree murder to situations in which someone’s actions were so wanton and reckless that the death of another person was readily foreseeable, even if killing someone was not the intention, such as driving at speed into a crowd of people. Second degree murder is also very serious, and in most situations the defendant will face life in prison or a similarly harsh sentence, though the death sentence is not an option.
Crimes that are related to murder are:
- Justifiable homicide
- Felony murder
After a jury has found a defendant guilty of second degree murder, the case moves on to the sentencing phase. During this phase, the defendant will learn what penalties the state or federal government will impose for their crime. There are several factors that determine what sentence a person convicted of second degree murder will receive. First, there is the actual language of the law that sets the penalty. Second, there is a range of aggravating and mitigating factors that courts can consider when deciding on a sentence. All of these things taken together will determine what punishment a defendant receives.
In addition to elements set out in the penal code, there are usually some aggravating and mitigating factors that courts examine to determine a defendant’s exact sentence. Aggravating factors are aspects of the crime or the criminal’s behavior or history that increase the severity of the imposed sentence. Mitigating factors tend to demonstrate to the sentencing court that the defendant deserves a lighter sentence than they would normally receive without the presence of the mitigating factors. Murder in the second degree is a class A-I felony. Section 60.06 of the New York Penal Code sets forth the authorized disposition reserved for a specific type of second-degree murder, among other offenses. The statute specifies that a person convicted of the fifth type of second-degree murder described earlier in this section – causing the death of a person under 14 years old in the course of committing a specified crime such as rape, a criminal sexual act or sexual abuse – will be subject to life imprisonment without parole. Convictions for any other type of second-degree felony carry a sentence of a 15 to 25-year term in prison.
There are several defenses that could apply to a second degree murder charge. Most defendants assert that they didn’t actually commit the crime. Other defendants admit to killing the victim, but claim some sort of justification. Attorneys call these types of defenses affirmative defenses. As with most criminal cases, the result of a defense strategy will depend on the facts surrounding the charges and the laws of the jurisdiction. Here is a list to illustrate the most common defenses that could apply to an allegation of second degree murder:
- Actual Innocence
Most murders are handled by the state in which the murder occurs and the federal law allows the state to oversee these cases personally. If however the victim is a federal official, an ambassador, consul or other foreign official under the protection of the United States, or if the crime took place on federal property or involved crossing state lines, or in a manner that substantially affects interstate commerce or national security, then the federal government also has jurisdiction. If a crime is not committed within any state, then Federal jurisdiction is exclusive: examples include vessels of the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Merchant Marine in international waters and U.S. military bases worldwide. In cases where a murder involves both state and federal jurisdiction, the offender can be tried and punished separately for each crime without raising issues of double jeopardy, unless the court believes that the new prosecution is merely a “sham” forwarded by the prior prosecutor. In the United States there is no statute of limitations on the crime of murder.
One of the most high profile cases of murder was People of the State of California v. Orenthal James (O.J.) Simpson where O.J. was tried on two counts of murder after the deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and waiter Ronald Lyle Goldman, in June 1994. It has even been called the trial of the century. The case lasted eight months with Simpson hiring a high-profile defense team of Robert Shapiro. Johnnie Cochran, and Robert Kardashian with others. Led by Johnnie Cochran, the defense team alleged that there was police misconduct with the evidence and mishandled evidence. The jury found OJ not guilty as a result of this evidence by the defense. By the end of the criminal trial, national surveys showed dramatic differences in the assessment of Simpson’s guilt or innocence between most black and white Americans.