Question: My husband got into an argument with a neighbor, and the argument got heated. The neighbor then pulled out a gun and tried to shoot my husband. During the struggle, the gun went off and the neighbor got shot. He was taken to the hospital and my husband is going to talk to the police at the police station. The neighbor’s family is saying my husband shot him, but it wasn’t even his gun. We found out that the neighbor is in critical condition. If he dies, can my husband be charged with murder? But my husband was defending himself. What charges does my husband face?
Answer: It is best that your husband talks to a Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer about the shooting. Because he potentially faces serious charges, it is in his best interests to have a lawyer with him when questioned by the police. Feel free to call our office to discuss the shooting. We offer free consultations for Philadelphia criminal cases, such as shootings, attempted murder, etc.
With that said, I will answer your question in general terms based on the facts you gave me. Let’s first discuss the potential charges your husband faces if your neighbor dies as a result of the gunshot wound.
Murder and Manslaughter Charges After Philadelphia Shootings
Murder Charges in Philadelphia, PA
The most serious charge your husband faces is first degree murder depending on the facts. Pennsylvania defines first degree murder as an unlawful killing that is both willful and premeditated. Let’s say your husband and the neighbor have had a long standing feud, and during an altercation a few days prior, your husband was heard threatening to kill the neighbor. This was witnessed by multiple people. The night of the shooting, your husband went to the neighbor’s house with his own gun. Under these facts, the prosecution may argue that your husband acted with premeditation and intended to kill the neighbor. He may therefore me charged with first degree murder. Even though the gun that shot your neighbor was not your husband’s gun, because your husband had a gun with him, they can argue that your husband went to your neighbor’s house with the intention to shoot him.
Manslaughter Charges in Philadelphia, PA
Your husband would probably face a manslaughter charge. Manslaughter is a homicide that is committed when the defendant is acting under a sudden and intense passion or under serious provocation. It is not an intentional killing, i.e., the killing was not planned or premeditated. There are two types of manslaughter: voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.
Voluntary manslaughter is a killing of another person that is committed when the defendant is acting under sudden serious provocation. It is a first degree felony. Involuntary manslaughter is the killing of another that resulted from an unlawful act or lawful act that was committed in a reckless or grossly negligent manner. It is a misdemeanor of the first degree.
In your husband’s situation, the prosecution may charge your husband with voluntary manslaughter and try to argue that your husband was so angry during the fight and struggle that he took the gun from your neighbor and shot him.
Attempted Murder and Aggravated Assault
Attempted Murder in Philadelphia
If your neighbor survives the gunshot wound, then your husband may be charged with attempted murder. This is when a defendant had a specific intent to kill someone, took a step toward the commission of the killing, but did not succeed. The prosecution would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he had a specific intent to kill your neighbor.
Aggravated Assault in Philadelphia
Your husband may also be charged with aggravated assault as a result of the shooting. Aggravated assault is when a person attempted to cause or did cause serious bodily injury, which is defined as an injury that would create a substantial risk of death or that will cause serious, permanent disfigurement or a protracted loss or impairment of a function of any body organ. Like an attempted murder charge, the prosecution would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s conduct was intentional, i.e., it was his purpose to cause the serious bodily injury.
Self-Defense in Philadelphia Murder, Homicide and Shooting Cases
From the facts you gave me, we would be able to argue that the shooting occurred because he was defending himself. In other words, your husband’s defense is self-defense. We can argue that the neighbor pulled out the gun to try to shoot your husband. Your husband reacted and a struggle ensued. As a result of the struggle, the gun went off and shot your neighbor.
Unlike other defenses in Philadelphia criminal cases, if self-defense is presented, then the burden of proof would shift unto the defendant. Per PA criminal law, a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. However, self-defense is an affirmative defense. This means that the defendant has to prove that he was justified to use force or deadly force because he was under the reasonable belief that force was necessary to prevent serious injury or death to himself.
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