The City of Chicago recently saw the case of Jason Van Dyke, who was charged with first-degree murder. Before the jury began deliberating, they were told that they could also consider a second-degree murder conviction for the former officer.
Though these charges are similar, two mitigating factors distinguish second-degree murder from first-degree murder: 1 – incidents that take place in the “heat of passion;” and 2 – the defendant’s belief that the situation he or she is in exonerates him or her of murder.
An individual acting under the “heat of passion” is described as reacting to a situation with a “sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation by the individual killed.” Often, this will be people acting in self defense that intend to harm or incapacitate an individual that they believe represents a grave threat to their safety.
The second mitigating factor is that the individual charged with murder believed that the situation they were in put them in a position to justifiably commit murder as an act of self defense. The jury must believe that the defendant truly believed they were justified in their actions in that moment, but at the same time the jury sees that those actions were unreasonable.
In the Van Dyke case, the jury convicted him of second-degree murder. This means that the jury felt that Van Dyke knew that his actions could cause great harm or death. But they felt that he acted in self defense, even though this self defense was unreasonable in the jury’s eyes.
When facing a murder charge, the defense will rely heavily on intent. If the jury is under the impression that the defendant acted with the intent to kill without serious provocation, then they could convict the defendant of first-degree murder. If the jury finds a defendant acted in the heat of the moment, reacting to what he or she believed to be a threat to his or her safety great enough where they have to kill the aggressor to survive, then the defendant could be convicted of second-degree murder.
As a lesser charge, second-degree murder also carries a lesser sentence. Whereas a person convicted of first-degree murder can be imprisoned for life, a defendant convicted of second-degree murder is sentenced to between 4 and 20 years.
If you or a loved one are charged with first- or second-degree murder, it is imperative to speak to a lawyer. Contact Richard at Fenbert & Associates, LLC for a free consultation.