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Difference Between 1st Degree and 2nd Degree Murder

murder1st Degree Vs 2nd Degree Murder

First and second degree murders all involve killings or inflicting very serious bodily harm to a person but only vary in degree. Obviously, first degree murder is much more heinous compared to the latter. The first is usually done with an aggravating situation that makes it seem more violent or warrants severe punishment. Some examples of these special circumstances include: committing murder to uplift one’s financial status, murder to avert custody and arrest, murder of statutory figures like police officers, judge and government officials, and whether the style of killing is dreadful enough like in the case of extreme torture and the like.

Although their definitions vary according to jurisdiction and state laws, first degree murder is basically defined as a murder that has a deliberate intent to take one’s life. These intentional killings can include a roster of similar means including: poisoning the victim, making an ambush, killings through bombings or other methods that leads to extreme damage to one’s life. Moreover, it was committed due to an innate precarious felony like rape, assault using a lethal weapon and armed robbery that resulted directly to death. This type of murder is planned, preparations were done to initiate the act and in the end it was successfully carried out. The act was done to literally end one’s life.

On the contrary, second degree murder is defined in most jurisdictions as an unplanned type of murder. These are acts that were done and were likely to cause an end to one’s life. In the simplest terms, any murder that does not fall under first degree is automatically under the lower degrees usually in the second degree murder category.

Depending on the governing state laws, the punishments for first and second degree murders also differ. First degree murder has a heavier punishment compared to second degree murder. Some jurisdictions use the capital punishment of death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for first degree murder offenders. For the second degree murder violators, their sentence is lighter. Especially in the U.S., it is usually imprisonment for up to 20 years, other states practice not more than 40 years while some may extend to life imprisonment or an equivalent of 80 years with or without the chance of parole.


1.First degree murder is more heinous compared to second degree murder and that there is usually a special circumstance involved in the first.
2.First degree murder is an intentional and planned act to take someone’s life whereas second degree murder is usually unplanned.
3.The punishment for first degree murder is heavier than in second degree. First degree murders often result in death penalty or life imprisonment (ineligible for parole) whereas second degree murders lead to 20 to 80 years of imprisonment or life imprisonment with parole possibilities.

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  1. I found this to be informative. Nothing else I read could tell me the exact difference between Murder in the 1st Degree and Murder in the 2nd Degree. I must say that this gave me an ‘Aha!’ moment and I found it very informative. A wonderful article.

  2. Ver helpful. Thanks for explaining it in layman terms.

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