What Is the Difference Between a First and Second Degree Murder Charge?

Murder may seem like a simple act – Actor A kills Victim B. However, as we all know from watching movies and TV, murder is not always simple, often not easily explained, and sometimes hard to nail down. Because it’s unlawful, it is like all other illegal acts, subject to a precise definition in which certain “elements” apply. In Louisiana, the category of murder falls into two types which include first-degree and second-degree. Each type has specific characteristics.

First-Degree Murder in Louisiana

Under Louisiana law, first-degree murder and second-degree murder are basically defined in the same way: having the specific intention to take another’s life or to cause that person “great bodily harm.” First-degree murder is considered more grievous than second because it includes some specific aggravating factor or circumstances. These factors include the manner in which it was committed or the victim who was its target. Because of its particularly heinous nature as viewed by the law, first-degree murder is the only form of homicide that can be punished by the death penalty.

What Are the Factors That Can Put Murder into the First-Degree Category?

Various factors can elevate the act of murder into the first-degree category as outlined under Louisiana law. Some of these factors include:

  • Killing a police officer, peace officer, fireman, judge, parole or probation officer, coroner, district attorney, someone employed by the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab, prison employee, or person with a similar occupation
  • Killing someone while committing another crime such as kidnapping, arson, rape, armed robbery, burglary, a drive-by shooting, cruelty to children, or terrorism
  • Killing more than one person
  • Killing someone as a hired assassin
  • Killing a child under the age of 12 or a senior aged 65 or older
  • Killing someone while engaged in drug dealing
  • Killing a person under the protection of a restraining order when the offender is the one named to be restrained
  • Killing a witness to a crime to prevent his or her testimony or as retribution for testimony

When charged with killing any person or persons in the above categories with intent to kill or cause great bodily harm, the penalties can include death or life in prison with hard labor and without the possibility of parole.

What is Second-Degree Murder in Louisiana?

Second-degree murder is also defined as killing another when you have the intent to kill or to cause great bodily harm to the victim. It also includes killing someone while committing or attempting to commit another crime, such as kidnapping, arson, rape, burglary, a drive-by shooting, a terrorist act, or cruelty to children. The difference between second-degree and first-degree in many of these cases is that the prosecution is not intent on pursuing the death penalty.

The penalty for second-degree murder is also a term of life in prison without the possibility of probation or a suspended sentence.

Turn to a Trusted Criminal Defense Law Firm in Baton Rouge

If you or someone you know is facing a murder charge, it is obviously an extremely serious situation. Such a charge calls for an aggressive and meticulous defense by a defender who has experience handling such defenses. At The Ambeau Law Firm, you can bring your case to a firm that has decades of experience including time spent in service as a public defender. Attorney Jarrett Ambeau is also a qualified expert in forensic DNA interpretation and has conducted numerous jury trials.

To learn more about how our team can help you, contact us at (225) 230-1181 or through our online request form to arrange for a free consultation.