What is the Difference Between First and Second Degree Murder?
Second degree murder is a term often heard on newscasts and in print, but what does it actually mean? Perhaps the quickest way to understand the difference between first and second degree murder, is to appreciate that first degree murder applies to specific felonies. The most common first degree murder scenario involves premeditation. Second degree murder, however, applies to cases of malicious yet unprovoked homicides. For detailed answers regarding your case, your best source of information is your local Virginia Beach Criminal Lawyer.
Case law in Virginia follows the common law definition of murder: “Murder is the unlawful killing of any person with malice aforethought and malice is either express . . . or implied . . . [further stating,] [m]alice aforethought is the grand criterion which distinguishes murder from other killings.”
What is the Meaning of “Malicious?”
Some interesting case law has come out of Virginia proving “malice” is a strange term indeed. As one case illustrates, a person can kill another “maliciously” but without the intent to kill the victim.
For instance, a person working on a building who throws a heavy object, such as a rock, from a building and onto a busy street below might be found to have acted with malice. Text books often refer to this as “depraved heart murder.” A common way for the legal system to refer to such conduct is by the term – “extreme recklessness.” The conduct, however, must be so extreme that the actor essentially has no care for human life.
Second Degree Murder in the News
The Virginian-Pilot reported last week that a Norfolk man was convicted of second degree murder in the death of his granddaughter. Naeem Annafi was found to have acted with malicious intent when he shook the 14 month old infant. The judge said he shook the baby “[with] tremendous physical force.”
Initially, Mr. Annafi called paramedics to report the toddler had fallen down a flight of stairs. He later admitted to shaking the baby because she was misbehaving.
McWhirt v. Com., 44 Va. 594, 604–05, 3 Gratt. 594, 1846 WL 2405 (1846)
E.g., Whiteford v. Commonwealth, 27 Va. 721, 813–14, 6 Rand. 721, 1828 WL 867 (1828).