Most commonly, a person is guilty of
Murder in the Second Degree, Penal Law Section 125.25, when he intentionally causes the death of another person. (There are
other ways that one can be guilty of this charge as well, but this is
by far the most common.) A person acts "intentionally" in homicide cases when it is his conscious objective to achieve
another person's death.
Murder in the Second Degree is a Class A-1 felony punishable by a minimum
indeterminate sentence of from 20 years to life. Some lesser homicide-related
Manslaughter in the First Degree, Penal Law Section 125.20, a Class B violent felony punishable by a determinate sentence between
5 and 25 years, and
Manslaughter in the Second Degree, Penal Law Section 125.15, a Class C violent felony punishable by a determinate sentence between
3.5 and 15 years in prison.
People charged with Murder in the Second Degree frequently employ "mitigation
defenses" whereby they do not deny that they are ultimately criminally
responsible for another person's death, but instead argue that they
are not guilty of the Class A-I violent felony. Basically, they are hoping
to be convicted of a lesser charge such as Manslaughter in the First Degree
or Manslaughter in the Second Degree, which carry much lower sentences.
For a comparison of the potential sentence differences between a Class
A-1 violent felony and a Class B or Class C violent felony, see
A person is guilty of Manslaughter in the Second Degree when he "recklessly" causes the death of another person. Penal Law Section 15.05(3) explains:
"A person acts recklessly with respect to a result when he is aware
of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that
such result will occur or that such circumstance exists. The risk must
be of such nature and degree that disregard thereof constitutes a gross
deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would
observe in the situation." Reckless acts are generally deemed less
serious or blameworthy than intentional acts. Thus, a person charged with
Murder in the Second Degree may claim that they killed the other person
"recklessly," rather than "intentionally," as Penal
Law Section 125.25 requires. The classic celebrity example of a reckless
manslaughter is the case of former NBA basketball player Jayson Williams,
who accidentally shot and killed someone while horsing around with a loaded
shotgun inside his home. Obviously, though, there are numerous other examples
and scenarios in which a person may kill someone through recklessness
or risky behavior.
A person is most commonly guilty of Manslaughter in the First Degree when
he intends to only cause serious physical injury to another person, but
actually causes their death instead (Penal Law Section 125.20), or
when he kills someone while acting under the influence of an extreme emotional
disturbance for which there is a reasonable explanation (Penal Law Section
125.20). The classic example of the former is when someone unexpectedly
dies in a man-to-man fistfight - the survivor was certainly intending
to harm the other person badly but perhaps never intended to actually
kill him. The classic example of the latter is the husband who comes home
to discover his wife in bed with another man, and then kills the other
man in a blind uncontrollable rage.
Mitigation defenses are inherently risky in that they require the defense
to concede that the defendant did in fact kill the deceased, but they
can be excellent arguments for defense attorneys to make when that fact
is not legitimately in dispute.
If you or a loved one have been charged with murder or manslaughter in
New York, you should strongly consider contacting the experienced criminal
defense attorneys at
Galluzzo & Arnone LLP (www.gjllp.com).
New York State Supreme Court,