Email or Call (215) 564-0644

    Sentences for First Degree Murder Convictions in Pennsylvania

    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.

    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.

    David S. Nenner

    "Top Rated Criminal Defense Lawyer"

    Not guilty on 1st Degree MURDER CHARGE (dec. 2022, Pottsville, Pa)

    Mr. Nenner's client faced first degree murder, third degree murder and various other charges. The Commonwealth alleged that Mr. Whitted stabbed and killed a driver after an incident at a red light in West Brunswick Township. Throughout the trial, Mr. Nenner argued...

    MURDER, Att. Murder CHARGES – Negotiated Significantly Lower prison sentence (Feb. 2022, PHILA)

    Mr. Anderson faced murder and attempted murder charges after an incident in Northeast Philadelphia involving the shooting death of Anderson’s sister’s boyfriend and the boyfriend’s roommate who was shot 5 times and survived. The decedent had previously beaten the...


    The Commonwealth alleged that Mr. Shelton shot and seriously injured a male in a bar in North Philadelphia called Circles. There was video of the shooting which happened outside the bar. However, Mr. Nenner presented witnesses who testified that the person in the bar...


    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 Charges in Philadelphia PA State Court – Possession of a Controlled Substance

    In most criminal drug cases in Philadelphia, there are two common charges or offenses: Possession of a Controlled Substance and Possession of a Controlled Substance with Intent to Deliver. In addition to these drug charges, there are other drug related charges, such...

    Drug Charges in Philadelphia PA State Court – What is “Possession”

    Page last reviewed and updated: October 20, 2019 One of the most common types of criminal state (PA) cases in Philadelphia is possession of drugs. Possession of a Controlled Substance (PCS) and Possession of a Controlled Substance with Intent to Deliver (PWID) often...

    Pennsylvania Second Degree Murder (AKA: Felony Murder) Law

    Philadelphia criminal lawyer David S. Nenner discusses the current status of second degree murder law in Pennsylvania. This is also known as the felony murder rule. Get info about PA court decisions and the agency theory. Not every case of death during the commission of a felony will result in a second degree murder conviction in PA.

    Philadelphia Murder Cases – Police Investigation Tactics

    Questioning Police Officer Tactics in Philadelphia Murder Cases Within the last 10 years, there have been several murder Philadelphia criminal cases in which the accused individuals were acquitted of the crimes. In these cases, the individuals spent months, if not...

    Murder Charges in Pennsylvania – Murder Law in Pennsylvania

    An explanation of Pennsylvania murder laws including Section 2502. What is murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree and murder in the third degree. Get a summary of the definitions under Pennsylvania criminal law.