As unfortunate as it may be, people die every day. Some die of illnesses, health complications, unforeseen occurrence such as accidents, and others die from the hands of others, which is murder. Many times we see on the news how people have been murdered and the killer has been identified, yet charges end up getting dropped, the killer is acquitted or either the killer is charged with something less than what may make sense to a lay person. This is where it is beneficial to understand the different types of murder, and how prosecutors typically analyze killings.
Before getting into common murder charges, I’ll discuss a current killing that recently occurred so that this can all be put into context based on a real event. Last month, a hunter shot and killed a woman while she was walking her dogs in a field near her home because she was allegedly mistaken for a deer. The man has been charged with manslaughter and is facing a potential sentence of 5 to 15 years in prison. In addition, the man was out hunting after sunset when he shot the woman, which is not permitted.
Now, at first glance it may appear unfair for this innocent woman to have lost her life and the shooter only be charged with manslaughter and not second-degree murder. This is where it is important to understand the types of murder and why he was charged with manslaughter. The three most common types of murder are: first degree murder, second degree murder and manslaughter.
First degree murder is any type of killing that is willful, deliberate and pre-meditated. NCGS § 14-17(a). This means that when a killer kills someone, that was the outcome that the killer intended. North Carolina law specifies poison, lying in wait, imprisonment, starving and torture all as actions that constitute first degree murder. Id. It also specifies that any killing that occurs during the perpetration of any arson, rape or sex offense, robbery, kidnapping, burglary, or any felony committed or attempted with the use of a deadly weapon shall be deemed as first degree murder and a Class A felony. Id.
Thus, second degree murder is a catch all as to other murder outside of what is deemed as first degree murder. If the killing is not premeditated, willful and deliberate, then it cannot be first degree murder. Second degree murder is punished as a Class B1 felony, except in certain instances where the culprit is punished as a Class B2 felony. NCGS § 14-17(b). The two instances where second degree murder is charged as a Class B2 felon, as opposed to a Class B1 are:
(1) The malice necessary to prove second degree murder is based on an inherently dangerous act or omission, done in such a reckless and wanton manner as to manifest a mind utterly without regard for human life and social duty and deliberately bent on mischief.
(2) The murder is one that was proximately caused by the unlawful distribution of opium or any synthetic or natural salt, compound, derivative, or preparation of opium, or cocaine or other substance described in G.S. 90-90(1)d., or methamphetamine, and the ingestion of such substance caused the death of the user.
NCGS § 14-17b(1)-(2).
In addition to statutory murder, North Carolina also relies on case law for both voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter is when the killing is not intended, unlike both first and second degree murder. Voluntary manslaughter is an intentional killing, but fueled by “heat of passion”. There must be some type of adequate provocation for voluntary manslaughter and there cannot be a “cooling off” period for the culprit to have time to think before he or she kills. An example of voluntary manslaughter would be as follows: a married woman comes home after a long day of work, and walks into her family home. She goes upstairs, and witnesses her husband engaging in sexual intercourse with another woman. Angry and hurt, the woman immediately grabs a gun out of the closet and shoots and kills the mistress. However, if the woman instead walks in on her husband and his mistress, then cries and yells at her husband and the woman for a few minutes and then goes for the gun after any type of hesitation and thought, this is likely no longer involuntary murder because the wife had time to think before she decided to go get the gun and shoot the mistress. Since there was a “cooling off” period, the act of shooting and killing the woman would then be willful, premeditated and deliberate.
Now, since the different types of murder have been explained, lets now go back to the current event of the hunter who mistakenly killed the woman who was walking her dogs. It should now be clear as to why he is charged with manslaughter as opposed to first degree murder. Based on the information that has been released pertaining to this unfortunate killing, it appears that the hunter never intended to kill the woman. When he pulled the trigger to the gun, he had the intent of shooting and killing a dear, and not a live human being. Thus, since there was no intent, he had to be charged with manslaughter.
Dealing with murder and/or facing criminal charges is never easy to deal with or talk about. However, at Rosensteel Fleishman we understand that sometimes you may be placed in unfavorable circumstances. Our attorneys are here to fight for you and your rights. If you have been charged with a crime, call our office at (704) 714-1450 to schedule a free initial consultation with one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys.