Legal Differences Between Different 1st, 2nd, And 3rd Degree Murder

September 16, 2021

Legal Differences Between Different 1st, 2nd, And 3rd Degree Murder

We usually come across the terms ‘homicide’ and ‘murder’, especially while watching TV shows and listening to the news. They are mostly used interchangeably but what exactly is the difference between them?

Due to the constant use of these terms in crime-related drama and media, most individuals don’t understand the difference between the two.

A homicide refers to an act of “taking the life of another person”. However, it also encircles any loss of life caused in defence. Murder, on the other hand, is a criminal homicide that causes loss of life or is intended to cause loss of life.

According to Canadian Law, culpable homicide is divided into three main types. These are:

  • 1st Degree Murder
  • 2nd Degree Murder
  • 3rd Degree Murder/ Manslaughter

In this blog post, we will overview the different types of murder and explain the type of evidence required to prove them in court as well as the sentencing requirements.

What Is Murder?

The Canadian Criminal Code defines murder as,

When a person causes the death of a human being, means to cause the death, or causes bodily harm, knowing it could cause death. A death is culpable if the murders were planned or due to an unlawful act, criminal negligence, or by causing that human being through threats of violence, fear of violence, or by deception to do anything that causes their own death.

1st Degree Murder

1st Degree murder is defined as,

A homicide that is both planned and deliberate. An example of this is contract killing.

According to recent amendments, 1st Degree murder now consists of these different forms of homicide:

  • Murders that are planned and deliberate
  • Murders of police or custodial officers killed in the line of duty
  • Murders committed in the course of specified criminal acts (hijacking, sexual offences or kidnapping)
  • Murders committed by a person who has been convicted of first or second-degree murder
  • Situations involving contracted murder or criminal organizations
  • Murder while committing intimidation of a justice system participant, or a journalist reporting on organized crime

To prove a person guilty of 1st Degree murder, the Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of planning and deliberately killing the person. The final decision depends on the judge and the jury who should be completely satisfied that the accused’s actions were an essential part of the killing.

As far as the parole and the sentence is concerned, a person convicted of 1st Degree murder receives the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment with parole eligibility after 25 years.

2nd Degree Murder

2nd Degree murder is defined as,

Deliberate killing that occurs without planning and does not fall under any of the categories of first-degree murder.

An example of this is a murder that happens during an argument. For similar cases, the judge can decide on the parole eligibility based on the Crown, defence, and jury recommendations. If the accused is a repeat offender then they will receive a sentence with no parole for 25 years. However, in other cases, a 2nd Degree murder charge may be reduced to manslaughter if the accused’s mental faculties were impaired or if it is proved that the homicide was committed in the heat of the situation.

3rd Degree Murder/ Manslaughter

Manslaughter, also known as 3rd Degree murder, is defined as,

A homicide that was committed without intent, although there may have been an intention to cause harm.

Manslaughter is divided into two broad categories:

  • Unlawful act: when a crime that is committed unintentionally results in the death of another person.
  • Criminal negligence: Death of a person as a result of an act or a failure to act that showed wanton or reckless disregard for the lives of others.

The sentence of manslaughter has no minimum limit except for when it was a result of using a firearm. In that case, the minimum sentence is four years.

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