No crime is considered more heinous than the taking of a human life, and therefore, murder is the only criminal offense punishable by death.
Most people consider homicide to mean cold-blooded, pre-meditated murder, but there are many acts of homicide which do not equate murder. For example, manslaughter is an act of homicide that is unintentional, reckless, or committed in the heat of passion. Excusable homicide occurs when a person commits a necessary killing in the course of duty—for example, a law enforcement officer protecting the public safety or military troops engaged in war. Finally, justifiable homicide is the taking of another life in self defense against imminent harm.
Excusable homicide and justifiable homicide are not criminal offenses. Manslaughter and murder are both violent “85 Percent” crimes that carry lengthy prison sentences among the penalties. Of the two types of criminal homicide, murder is the most egregious and the most severely punished. It is a crime that is aggressively prosecuted, and finding a defense lawyer who has the skill, resources, and knowledge to effectively fight against the charge is critical to the outcome of a defendant’s case.
The crime of murder is classified into two degrees of severity: first degree murder and second degree murder. While neither of these offenses is considered a minor offense, first degree murder carries more severe penalties—even death under certain circumstances.
The Oklahoma criminal code defines first degree murder in 21 O.S. § 701.7 as an act of homicide that occurs under one or more of the following five circumstances:
In general, first degree murder is punishable by life in prison or life without parole. If parole is not prohibited by the sentence, a person does not become eligible for such until at least 85 percent of his or her crime has been served. For a life sentence, a person would have to serve a minimum of more than 38 years before parole is even a possibility.
In some cases, first degree murder results in capital punishment. The following conditions, specified in 21 O.S. § 701.12, allow a prosecutor to seek the death penalty:
The above situations are capital offenses; however, there are certain people for whom the death penalty is ruled unconstitutional: defendants who were younger than 18 when the murder was committed and defendants who are mentally retarded as evidenced by an IQ of 70 or lower.
Premeditation, or “malice aforethought,” is not an element of second degree murder. Rather, second degree murder is an act of homicide that occurs as a result of an act that is “imminently dangerous” and shows “depraved mind” that disregards human life. Second degree murder also includes murder in the commission of a felony other than those specified as constituting first degree murder.
Second degree murder does not require "malice aforethought" or premeditation. Acts of homicide committed through the wanton disregard for human life are often among those charged as second degree murder. Furthermore, if a death occurs during the commission of a felony other than those specifically designated under the first degree murder statute, the person or persons committing the crime will be charged with second degree murder.
Like first degree murder, second degree murder carries the possibility of life behind bars. It is punishable by a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life. Because of the 85 Percent Rule, a person given the minimum sentence would serve at least 8.5 years.
A defense lawyer handling a murder case must be up to the challenge of careful investigation, painstaking legal research, and aggressive representation to help combat the most serious criminal charges. To find an attorney who has the experience, know-how, and commitment to take on one of the most difficult legal battles, contact Law Firm of Oklahoma today.