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Understanding the Difference Between First-Degree and Second-Degree Murder in Oklahoma

On Behalf of | Jun 11, 2018 | Uncategorized

No doubt about it: if you are convicted of murder either by a jury or through a guilty plea in Oklahoma, you will spend time in prison. But whether you are convicted of first-degree murder or second-degree murder can literally mean the difference between life and death for you the defendant, and at the very least mean a difference of additional decades spent behind bars.   Specifically, the punishment for first-degree murder in Oklahoma is either 1) life in prison with the possibility of parole; 2) life in prison with no possibility of parole; or 3) the death penalty.   By contrast, the minimum sentence for second-degree murder is only 10 years in prison, although that sentence may rise to life in prison as well.   It should go without saying that, even if there is a high likelihood of conviction for a murder crime, it is far preferable for a defendant to receive a second-degree murder conviction rather a first-degree conviction. An experienced criminal defense attorney will always fight on behalf of a defendant facing homicide charges to seek full innocence, but, where this is not possible, will seek a lesser conviction from first-degree murder, which can include second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, or involuntary manslaughter.

How First-Degree and Second-Degree Murder Are Defined in Oklahoma

There are several ways in which prosecutors in Oklahoma state court may prove first-degree murder. These include:

  • An unlawful killing with the premeditated intent to cause another person’s death
  • Soliciting another person to commit a murder in connection with an illegal drug crime
  • Intentionally causing the death of a law enforcement officer or correctional officer
  • Unintentionally causing the death of a child through a willful or malicious use of unreasonable force
  • Causing a death during the commission or attempted commission of the following felonies: 1) murder; 2) shooting a firearm with intent to kill; 3) shooting a firearm into any dwelling or building; 4) forcible rape; 5) robbery with a dangerous weapon; 6) kidnapping; 7) escape from lawful custody; 8) eluding an officer; 9) first-degree burglary; 10) first-degree arson; and 11) illegal drug distribution or trafficking.

  Second-degree murder in Oklahoma, on the other hand, includes the following scenarios:

  • Causing the death of another person through an imminently dangerous act that demonstrates a “depraved mind” on the part of the defendant, where there was no intent to kill, or
  • Causing a death during the commission or attempted commission of any felony not qualifying as first-degree murder

  Prosecutors must prove every element of first-degree murder or second-degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, there may be arguments at trial over whether a person being charged with first-degree murder truly had a premeditated intent to kill, or whether the act was rather unplanned or unintentional. Furthermore, there may be dispute over whether an underlying felony justifying a first-degree murder charge was truly taking place and/or whether the defendant on trial was participating in the crime.   Again, whether prosecutors can prove first-degree murder or, instead, second-degree murder can mean the difference of the death penalty or many decades behind bars. In all cases, seek experienced criminal defense counsel at the first sign of an Oklahoma homicide investigation or charge to protect your rights.

Experienced Criminal Defense in Your Oklahoma Criminal Matter

Oklahoma City criminal defense attorney Patrick Quillian is a former Oklahoma district attorney who relies on his years of experience in prosecuting cases to provide the best possible defense for all defendants. If you are facing criminal charges and/or investigation for a felony or misdemeanor in Oklahoma, contact the office of J. Patrick Quillian, Attorney at Law, today at 405-418-8888 to schedule a free consultation to see what his criminal defense team can do for you.


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