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Levels of Homicide under Illinois Law

Posted on in Criminal Law

levels of homicide, McHenry County Criminal Defense LawyerHomicide is one of the most commonly discussed crimes, but the terminology surrounding it can often be confusing. Moreover, pinning down the difference between a second degree murder and a reckless homicide can be difficult. However, for people charged with these crimes, those differences can be very important.

Illinois law has three different levels of homicide: first degree murder, second degree murder, and involuntary manslaughter/reckless homicide. The key differences between these three levels is the state of mind of the defendant at the time of the killing.

First Degree Murder

First degree murder is the most serious level of homicide in Illinois. To be convicted of first degree murder a defendant must have been acting either purposefully or knowingly during the commission of the murder. To act purposefully means to take some act with the intention of killing someone or causing him or her serious bodily harm. To act knowingly means to take that act while being aware that there is a strong probability that the act will cause someone death or serious bodily injury.

First degree murder can also arise in another context known as felony murder. Felony murder is a legal doctrine that states that any time a death results from a defendant's committing a forcible felony, such as armed robbery, the defendant can be charged with first degree murder as a result of that death.

Second Degree Murder

Second degree murder is a lesser murder charge that prosecutors can bring when the defendant killed someone purposefully or knowingly, but they did so with something affecting their state of mind that decreases the seriousness of the offense. One common way for a murder to be downgraded to second degree is if it is committed in the heat of intense passion.

For instance, a parent who kills a careless driver after the driver hits their child may be charged with second degree murder because of the emotional provocation. Similarly, a person who unreasonably believes that their killing was justified, such as a person who makes a mistake about the need for self-defense that no reasonable person would make, may be charged with only second degree murder.

Involuntary Manslaughter and Reckless Homicide

Involuntary manslaughter and reckless homicide are two closely related types of homicide that are less serious than murder. A person commits involuntary manslaughter when they recklessly perform an act that is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another person. If that act is driving a car or other vehicle, then the crime is reckless homicide rather than involuntary manslaughter.

Homicide charges are some of the most serious criminal charges a person can face. If you or a loved one has been charged with homicide or another crime, contact a skilled Crystal Lake criminal defense lawyer today.

Illinois State Bar Association State Bar of Wisconsin Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce Illinois Trial Lawyers Association McHenry County Bar Association
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