Former Manhattan prosecutors specializing in criminal defense and civil rights in state and federal courts.

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Murder and Related Offenses

Homicide or murder is the most serious offense known to law. In New York, there are several different varieties of charges relating to homicide, including murder and manslaughter.

Key Penal Law Provisions:

  • Homicide, PL 125.00
  • Criminal negligence, PL 15.05(4)
  • Criminally negligent homicide, PL 125.10, a class E felony
  • Aggravated criminally negligent homicide, PL 125.11, a class C felony
  • Vehicular manslaughter in the second degree, PL 125.12, a class D felony
  • Vehicular manslaughter in the first degree, PL 125.13, a class C felony
  • Manslaughter in the second degree, PL 125.15, a class C felony
  • Manslaughter in the first degree, PL 125.20, a class B felony
  • Aggravated manslaughter in the second degree, PL 125.21, a class C felony
  • Aggravated manslaughter in the first degree, PL 125.22, a class B felony
  • Murder in the second degree, PL 125.25, A-I
  • Aggravated murder, PL 125.26, a class A-I felony
  • Murder in the first degree, PL 125.27, a class A-I felony

Homicide

The sine qua non of any homicide, manslaughter or murder charge in New York is found in the definition of the term “homicide,” which means “conduct which causes the death of a person . . . under circumstances constituting murder, manslaughter in the first degree, manslaughter in the second degree, [or] criminally negligent homicide . . . ” PL 125.00. Thus, each offense involving any of the three basic forms of offenses, criminally negligent homicide, manslaughter, or murder, would, by definition, also constitute a homicide. However, not every homicide necessarily implicates a manslaughter or murder. The legal distinction or difference between murder and manslaughter, as well as criminally negligent homicide are discussed below.

Criminally Negligent Homicide

Criminal negligence, as defined in the Penal Law, is as follows: “A person acts with criminal negligence with respect to a result or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense when he fails to perceive 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 the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.” A person commits the offense of Criminally Negligent Homicide when he or she causes the death of another person with criminal negligence. PL 125.10.

Murder

Most people are loosely familiar with the concept of murder from television, movies or other popular media sources. In New York, however, murder can charged in more than just the classic intentional killing scenario.

Key Penal Law Provisions:

  • Murder in the second degree, PL 125.25, A-I
  • Aggravated murder, PL 125.26, a class A-I felony
  • Murder in the first degree, PL 125.27, a class A-I felony

The base offense of Murder in the Second Degree includes such intentional killings, PL 125.25(1), but also may be charged where a person causes the death of another in the course of committing one of several enumerated felonies, PL 125.25(3), which is sometimes referred to as “felony murder,” killings related to child abuse or sexual assault, PL 125.25(4)-(5), or “depraved indifference” murder, where the offender has acted with a depraved indifference to human life, and engages in conduct that creates a grave risk of death to another person. PL 125.25(2).

Murder in the first degree and aggravated murder are both class A-1 felonies, which carry the maximum sentence permitted by the law. PL 125.26, 125.27. First-degree murder may be roughly described as an intentional killing coupled with a special circumstance which elevates the charge from second-degree to first. PL 125.27. These special circumstances include murders of police or peace officers, prison or local jail employees, PL 125.27(a)(i)-(iii), murders designed to prevent a witness from testifying in any criminal action or proceeding, PL 125.27(v), contract killings, PL 125.27(vi), homicide committed while perpetrating another serious felony, PL 125.27(vii), a killing of an unintended victim during the course of an intentional killing of another, PL 125.27(viii), a murder committed by a repeat murder offender, 125.27(ix), cruel or wanton killings involving torture, PL 125.27(x), two or more intentional killings within the a period of 24 months, PL 125.27(xi), the killing of a judge, PL 125.27(xii), or terrorism-related killings, PL 125.27(xiii). In 2005, the New York State government passed legislation which created the offense of Aggravated murder, PL 125.26. Aggravated murder parallels certain subsections of first-degree murder, PL 125.27(1)(a)(i-iii), but was passed in response to a decision of the New York Court of Appeals, People v. Lavalle, in which the state’s highest court ruled that the procedure for imposing the death penalty in New York was flawed. Bill S2747. State congress passed the bill to allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty in cases where a law enforcement officer is murdered in the line of duty. Bill S2747.

Manslaughter and Vehicular Manslaughter

Key Penal Law Provisions:

  • Vehicular manslaughter in the second degree, PL 125.12, a class D felony
  • Vehicular manslaughter in the first degree, PL 125.13, a class C felony
  • Manslaughter in the second degree, PL 125.15, a class C felony
  • Manslaughter in the first degree, PL 125.20, a class B felony
  • Aggravated manslaughter in the second degree, PL 125.21, a class C felony
  • Aggravated manslaughter in the first degree, PL 125.22, a class B felony

Manslaughter, as opposed to murder, may be charged in those cases where a person acts with a mental state of lesser culpability. Thus, where a person intends only to inflict another person with serious physical injury, but does not intend to kill them, a prosecutor may decide to charge that person with Manslaughter in the first degree, PL 125.20(1) rather than murder. Another mitigating factor that may downgrade a charge of murder to Manslaughter in the first degree is whether the person acts under extreme emotional disturbance, as defined in PL 125.25, PL 125.20(2). A charge of Manslaughter in the second degree may lie in cases of reckless homicide, PL 125.15(1), or in cases of suicide assists. PL 125.15(3).