Murder is defined in Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 265, Section 1 as the unlawful killing of a human being either with malice or in the commission or attempted commission of certain felonies that are punishable by life imprisonment.
Malice is short for “malice aforethought” which is the conscious intent to cause death or great bodily harm to another person before the crime is committed).
Murder in the First Degree must be proved under at least one of three theories:
- Deliberate premeditation; or
- Extreme atrocity; or
- Felony-Murder: murder committed in the commission or attempted commission of a felony punishable by a maximum sentence of imprisonment for life.
Murder in the Second Degree is murder that does not meet any of the additional requirements of First Degree murder. There must be malice but not deliberate premeditation, extreme atrocity or cruelty, or the commission or attempted commission of a life felony.
Defenses to murder charges fall into four major categories:
- The accused did not commit the killing in question;
- The accused committed the killing, but did not commit murder (no malice);
- The accused acted in self-defense or in defense of another and was justified to do so;
- The accused was not legally responsible for the murder due to severe mental illness.
First degree murder is punishable by life without parole (unless the accused is a juvenile).
Second degree murder is punishable by life with parole.
Manslaughter is the intentional unlawful killing of another. Because there is no malice requirement, it does not carry as severe of a penalty as murder. There are two forms of manslaughter: voluntary and involuntary.
Voluntary manslaughter occurs when it can be proved that the accused intentionally inflicted injury likely to cause death that actually caused death and that the infliction of injuries were not legally justified.
The classic law school example of voluntary manslaughter is a person finding his/her spouse in bed with another person and killing that person with a baseball bat. The person who committed the killing was provoked in a way that made him/her lose control and act “in the heat of passion” with no conscious intent to cause death or serious bodily harm prior to the commission of the crime. Another example of voluntary manslaughter is death resulting from the use of excessive force in self-defense.
Involuntary manslaughter is when an unjustified killing was unintentionally caused by wanton or reckless conduct that carried a high likelihood that substantial harm would result to another. It is also the unlawful killing caused by the commission of a battery in circumstances in which the person committing the battery knows or reasonably should know endangers human life.
A tragic example of involuntary manslaughter is when someone punches another person and that person falls and hits his head on a curb causing death.
Voluntary and Involuntary Manslaughter is charged under the same statute which permits a state prison sentence for up to 20 years or a House of Correction sentence up to 2.5 years. Realistically a person convicted under an Involuntary Manslaughter theory of prosecution would face significantly less time than a person convicted of Voluntary Manslaughter.
If you or a loved one has been charged or are being investigated for murder or manslaughter charges, you need an experienced lawyer at your side from the beginning. Early investigations are a critical component of an effective defense and I hire highly skilled investigators to get on the scene before my clients even make it to court. In cases where there may be a mental health defense, I rely on a small group of exceptional forensic psychologists to evaluate my client before he has been confined and medicated in a jail setting. Time is of the essence in building an effective homicide defense and you need a lawyer who can hit the ground running. Please contact my office right away to set up an appointment.