Second Degree Murder and Felony Murder
“Any murder that is not first degree murder. More specifically, second degree murder includes (1) An unlawful killing that was committed 2) With malice aforethought but without deliberate premeditation; or (3) A murder that was committed in the course of committing a felony not punishable by death or life in prison.” The last of these (3) is known as second degree felony murder, and is discussed further below.Legal Elements Required For Conviction Of Second Degree Murder:
Unlike first-degree murder, which is defined by statute, the requisite elements of second degree murder are defined by case law. "Case law" is law that has been distilled from prior decisions of Massachusetts' courts; it's otherwise known as "common law" or "decisional law." In Massachusetts, murder in the second degree includes homicides committed with malice aforethought. “Malice aforethought” is a legal term, and it originates from common law. In the context of a charge of second degree murder, malice aforethought can include any intent to inflict a serious bodily injury, where there is no legal justification for doing so. As with first degree murder, "malice" equates to an intent to act in a manner that a reasonable person would know is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury. The malice element that applies in a Massachusetts Second Degree Murder charge does not require an intent on the part of the defendant to cause death – only “serious bodily injury.”
As to what a “legal justification” is, it is some situational fact or facts that would render conduct that would normally be considered criminal under the law, into non-criminal conduct. Perhaps the easiest example of a legal justification is self-defense, or defense of another. Malice aforethought means that the defendant had an intent to seriously hurt the victim, without any legal justification.
For a homicide to qualify as second degree felony murder, the same requirements apply as do for first degree murder. However, the separation point between these two crimes and charges is that, for a second degree felony murder conviction to result, the underlying felony must be one that is inherently dangerous or that shows a conscious disregard for human life, but carry a penalty of less than death or a life sentence. As an example, burglaries or car thefts such as Larceny of A Motor Vehicle would fall under this category.Penalties for a Conviction of Second Degree Murder Or Felony Murder
In Massachusetts, a conviction of second degree murder carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment (in a state prison, not a county jail,) with the possibility of parole after a minimum of 15 years. Two major differences from first degree murder are that: 1) A defendant charged with second degree murder has the right to waive a jury trial, and argue the case before a judge. This is called a "bench trial"; and 2) While a conviction of first degree murder triggers an automatic appeal before the Supreme Judicial Court, no automatic appeal follows a conviction of second degree murder
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