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    Murder Charges in Pennsylvania – Murder Law in Pennsylvania

    Murder in the First Degree – Intentional Killing

    First degree murder carries the most significant sentence in Pennsylvania – death or life in prison without parole. In Pennsylvania murder in the first degree is defined as the intentional killing of another person by means of poison, lying in wait, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate and premeditated (planned) killing. This includes shootings, stabbings, etc. Click below for Section 2502 which defines murder in Pennsylvania.

    Related: PA Criminal Murder Trial Appeals – PCRA Petition for a New Trial

    Criminal cases accepted in Philadelphia, Delaware County, Chester County, Montgomery County & Scranton/Lackawanna County. FREE CONSULTATIONS (215) 564-0644

    Murder in the Second Degree – Felony Murder

    Second degree murder is the act of killing another person during the commission of a felony. The sentence for this crime is mandatory life in prison without parole. Common underlying felonies which trigger the felony murder rule include:

    • drug trafficking/dealing,
    • robbery,
    • carjacking,
    • arson, and
    • kidnapping.

    Pennsylvania’s felony murder rule applies to both principals and accomplices. For example, under PA law, an accomplice to the crime of robbery (the get-away driver) can be found guilty of felony murder where a bank security officer is shot and killed by the principal actor (the individual who actually committed the robbery).

    Murder in the Third Degree

    Under Section 2502, “All other kinds of murder shall be murder of the third degree. Murder of the third degree is a felony of the first degree.” Third degree murder is punishable by a prison sentence of 10-20 years. Killing someone without premeditation or without intention is third degree murder, so long as it was not done while committing a felony (second degree murder).

    Manslaughter (Voluntary/Involuntary)

    Voluntary Manslaughter – Serious Provocation

    In Pennsylvania, the crime of voluntary manslaughter, a first degree felony, is defined as the killing of another person without lawful justification, if at the time of the act, the individual is acting under a sudden and intense passion or under serious provocation. Under the law, an individual can be provoked by the person who was killed or another person (whom the individual sought to kill, but negligently or accidently killed another person instead). For example, a Philadelphia resident would be guilty of voluntary manslaughter under circumstances where he is enraged by the actions of a neighbor and either 1. shoots and kills the neighbor, or 2. shoots, misses and kills another person.

    Involuntary Manslaughter – Reckless Act

    Involuntary manslaughter, a misdemeanor of the first degree, is defined as the killing of a person that resulted from an unlawful act or lawful act which was committed in a reckless or grossly negligent manner. An individual driving a car at high speed through a school zone during school hours is guilty of involuntary manslaughter when he hits and kills a child crossing the street.

    Philadelphia Criminal Lawyer – Murder Charges in Pennsylvania

    David Nenner is a criminal lawyer with decades of experience handling complex murder cases in the greater Philadelphia area including Montgomery, Delaware, Chester and Berks counties. He also handles murder cases in the Lehigh Valley area including Scranton/Lackawanna County. FREE CONSULTATIONS (215) 564-0644

    Disclaimer: This website does not create any attorney-client relationship or provide legal advice. Our lawyers provide legal advice only after accepting a case. It is imperative that any action taken is done on advice of counsel. Read full disclaimer below.

    Pennsylvania’s Murder Statute (Current as of November 2015)

    18 Pennsylvania Statutes Annotated Section 2502

    (a) Murder of the first degree.–A criminal homicide constitutes murder of the first degree when it is committed by an intentional killing.

    (b) Murder of the second degree.–A criminal homicide constitutes murder of the second degree when it is committed while defendant was engaged as a principal or an accomplice in the perpetration of a felony.

    (c) Murder of the third degree.–All other kinds of murder shall be murder of the third degree. Murder of the third degree is a felony of the first degree.

    (d) Definitions.–As used in this section the following words and phrases shall have the meanings given to them in this subsection:

    “Fireman.” Includes any employee or member of a municipal fire department or volunteer fire company.

    “Hijacking.” Any unlawful or unauthorized seizure or exercise of control, by force or violence or threat of force or violence.

    “Intentional killing.” Killing by means of poison, or by lying in wait, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate and premeditated killing.

    “Perpetration of a felony.” The act of the defendant in engaging in or being an accomplice in the commission of, or an attempt to commit, or flight after committing, or attempting to commit robbery, rape, or deviate sexual intercourse by force or threat of force, arson, burglary or kidnapping.

    “Principal.” A person who is the actor or perpetrator of the crime.

    David S. Nenner

    "Top Rated Criminal Defense Lawyer"


    Mr. Nenner's client was charged with multiple crimes (murder, conspiracy, aggravated assault, robbery, etc.) after a shooting death occurred at a gambling house in North Philadelphia. At trial, Mr. Nenner successfully presented a self-defense argument and convinced...


    Mr. Nenner’s client was charged with murder and gun charges in Philadelphia. The client was accused of shooting and killing another male on Arch Street near the 5600 block of Ithan Street in Philadelphia. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty after deliberating...

    Drug Possession Case – Motion to Suppress Granted

    Mr. Nenner presented evidence that to show that the traffic stop was a pretextual stop. The officer had no reason to pull the car over. The judge agreed and suppressed the evidence. As a result, the prosecution withdrew the charges.

    Attempted Murder Case – Not Guilty Jury Verdict

    Mr. Nenner presented a self-defense argument, and the jury returned a “not guilty” verdict after a 7 day trial in Philadelphia.

    3rd Degree Murder Case – Charges Dismissed for Co-Defendants

    Mr. Nenner represented co-defendants in a shooting death in North Philadelphia. Both cases were ultimately dismissed.

    Sentencing for 1st Degree Murder in PA

    In this article below we discuss sentencing for 1st degree murder cases in Pennsylvania. In later articles, we will discuss sentencing for 2nd and 3rd degree murder cases. If you or a loved one is facing murder charges in Philadelphia or the surrounding counties,...

    Philadelphia Criminal Trials – Evidence Pointing to Another Perpetrator in Drug Possession or Drug Manufacture Cases

    In criminal trials in Philadelphia, one pretty common defense tactic is pointing the finger at another person at trial. This can raise enough doubt to result in a not guilty verdict by the judge or jury that the defendant was not the perpetrator of the crime. Here’s...

    Philadelphia Murder & Gun Possession Cases Increasing in 2021 – A Look at Common Charges & Defenses

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    Pennsylvania Murder Charges, Deceased Person’s Statements Used to Prove Guilt

    Defense Trial Strategies – Excluding Statements That Accuse the Defendant Prosecutors often look to a deceased individual’s statements made prior to a murder to show that the defendant is guilty. These statements may point to a history of violence between the deceased...

    Pennsylvania (State) Drug Charges, Dog Sniffs & Constitutional Law

    Federal and Pennsylvania state courts treat narcotics dog searches differently. So different that the same scenario could result in different outcomes in federal versus state court. For example, a Philadelphia resident is pulled over for speeding. During the traffic...