Question: My son is not perfect, and has been in trouble before with the law for theft and drug possession. He got in trouble again recently. He had an unregistered gun and used it to mug someone on the street. My son reached in the person’s pocket to get his wallet, and the person tried to knock away the gun out of my son’s hand. They struggled in a fight, and the gun my son was holding accidentally went off and shot the person. He is now being charged with murder and other crimes. I am not saying what he was doing was right, but he would not intend to hurt anyone. Can you help us understand what charges he may be facing? What consequences is he facing?
Answer: Pursuant to Pennsylvania law, there are different degrees of murder charges. The most serious charge is first degree murder, which is defined as the unlawful killing of a person that is both willful and premeditated. In other words, the person intended and planned to kill another person.
Then there is second degree murder, which is the intentional killing of a person that is not premediated or planned, caused while in the course of committing a felony, such as robbery or drug dealing.
Third degree murder is a killing that involves gross recklessness rather than an intentional malicious act and it was not committed during the course of a felony.
It is unclear from your question, whether the victim died. If he/she did, the prosecution will likely argue that your son was committing a robbery when he shot the other person. In such a case, he faces second degree murder.
What is Robbery?
Robbery and theft are not the same under the law. Robbery is theft by using force. Pennsylvania Statute Title 18 Section 3701 provides that a person is guilty of robbery if, in the course of committing a theft, he:
(i) inflicts serious bodily injury upon another;
(ii) threatens another with or intentionally puts him in fear of immediate serious bodily injury;
(iii) commits or threatens immediately to commit any felony of the first or second degree;
(iv) inflicts bodily injury upon another or threatens another with or intentionally puts him in fear of immediate bodily injury;
(v) physically takes or removes property from the person of another by force however slight; or
(vi) takes or removes the money of a financial institution without the permission of the financial institution by making a demand of an employee of the financial institution orally or in writing with the intent to deprive the financial institution thereof.
Assuming that the victim died in your son’s case, pointing the gun at the person and telling them to hand money over is threatening another and intentionally puts the person in fear of being shot. In addition, he removed the wallet from the person. As the statute states, no matter how slight the force, i.e., simply reaching in the pocket, he was physically taking the wallet from the person. Under these circumstances, the murder happened during the commission of a robbery, and he will most likely face second degree murder. If your son is convicted of second degree murder, he faces life in prison without parole.
If the victim did not die, your son may be charged with attempted murder.
It is best that we discuss your son’s case in order for us to explain the charges he is facing. Just because he is charged does not necessarily mean that he will be found guilty. In addition, depending on the facts and evidence, there are defenses we can present and to lower the charges. For instance, if he is charged with second degree murder, we may be able to downgrade the charge to third degree murder.
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Below are other criminal legal articles about Philadelphia murder charges that may be of interest to you.
- Murder Charges in Pennsylvania – Murder Law in Pennsylvania This article discusses different degrees of murder charges and the punishment for the respective murder charges.
- Philadelphia Criminal Cases – Murder Trials & Self Defense, by a “Top” Rated Philadelphia Criminal Lawyer A defense criminal lawyers may raise in Philadelphia murder cases is self defense. In other words, the defendant killed the victim because he was defending himself. Typically, a defendant does not have to prove his innocence at trial. The burden rests with the prosecution to prove the defendant’s guilt. However, when self defense is raised, the defense has the burden to prove that the murder was self defense.
- Who is the Best Criminal Lawyer for Your Philadelphia Criminal Case? When facing criminal charges, defendants naturally want the “best” Philadelphia criminal lawyer to represent them. However, the best Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer may not be the best lawyer for you in the case.
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