First Degree Murder in PA – Death or Mandatory Life in Prison
Under Pennsylvania law, murder in the first degree is generally defined as an intentional killing committed under circumstances which demonstrate deliberation or premeditation. See Title 18 Pa. C.S. Section 2502 which defines murder in Pennsylvania.
Under Title 18 Pa. C.S. Section 1102 (Sentence for murder, murder of unborn child and murder of law enforcement officer), a conviction for murder in the first degree results in the death penalty or a mandatory life in prison sentence. Under Section 1102, the first degree murder of an unborn child is a mandatory life in prison sentence, but not the death penalty.
Related News: Scranton PA Teens Charged with Murder of Police Officer
Who Decides the Penalty in a First Degree Murder Case in PA?
Under Title 18 Pa. C.S. Section 9711, the fact-finder (the jury or the trial court judge) determines the penalty in a first degree murder case. A criminal defendant has the right to decide whether a judge or jury will decide the penalty.
Generally, in these types of criminal cases, the trial is bifurcated. This means that the trial is broken up into two parts: the guilt portion and then the sentencing portion. The two parts are conducted in a similar manner. Each side gets to present evidence and make arguments. Evidence will be presented concerning the victim and the impact of the death on the family of the victim. In addition, the parties may present aggravating and mitigating evidence.
Examples of aggravating evidence include:
- the victim was a child under the age of 12;
- the victim was pregnant (and this was known by the defendant at the time of the death);
- the death occurred during the commission of a felony;
- the death occurred under circumstances in which the defendant created a serious/grave risk of death to another person (not the victim);
- the murder was committed using torture;
- the defendant has a significant history of violent felony convictions including murder, manslaughter, etc.
Examples of mitigating evidence include:
- the defendant’s lack of a prior criminal history;
- the defendant’s extreme emotional or mental disturbance at the time of the murder;
- the defendant’s capacity (intellectual) to appreciate the criminality of the conduct;
- the defendant’s age at the time of the crime.
Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Law Firm – Murder Charges
Our criminal lawyers handle murder cases in Pennsylvania, primarily in the southeastern area of PA including Philadelphia County, Montgomery County, Delaware County, Chester County, and parts of the Lehigh Valley area (Scranton, Lackawanna County). For a free consultation, please call our offices at (215) 564-0644.
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