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Understanding the Basic Differences between Murder in the Second Degree (Penal Law 125.25), Manslaughter in the First Degree (Penal Law 125.20), and Manslaughter in the Second Degree (Penal Law 125.15).

The Law Office of Matthew Galluzzo, PLLC Team

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 charges include 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 here.

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[1]), 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[2]). 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 The Law Office of Matthew Galluzzo (

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