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Understanding First, Second, and Third-Degree Murder

Like many states throughout the United States, Minnesota has varying degrees of murder that range in severity and potential consequences. While any type of murder charge is unquestionably serious, murder charges can arise out of accidental deaths wherein the defendant has no intent to cause the death of the victim. These cases vary vastly from cases where a death is premeditated and intentional.

Understanding the different types of offenses as well as their possible defenses is vital to ensure you receive the best legal representation for your unique situation. An experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney will review your Complaint, advise you of your rights, and, drawing upon a decade-plus of criminal defense experience, build your case from start to finish while fighting for your freedom and protecting your future.

Murder in the First Degree

First-degree murder is the most serious murder charge in the State of Minnesota. For the State to prove this charge, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intentionally, and with premeditation, caused the death of the victim. There are several other ways the State can prove first-degree murder, for example, causing the death of an individual during a sexual assault, arson, or burglary. Each of the subsections of the first-degree murder statute varies, and it is essential to review the precise elements of the charged offense with your criminal defense attorney. (MN Stat § 609.185)

Murder in the Second Degree

Second-degree murder is not as severe as first-degree murder. A defendant is faced with this charge if the individual has intentionally killed another human without any previous plans or premeditation. Usually, an offense of this kind arises when a person reacts to an intensely emotional and impulsive situation and, in so doing, had no intent to cause the death of the other individual. However, the offense can also arise where the defendant demonstrates a lack of concern for human life. (MN Stat § 609.19)

Murder in the Third Degree

Third-degree murder is closely intertwined with voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. An offender is charged with murder in the third degree if an individual’s death has been deemed unintentional or without regard for human life. For example, if an individual fires a weapon into a concert, movie theater, or another large crowd without the intent of killing anyone, this could be considered third-degree murder. As with voluntary manslaughter, third-degree murder can also include the death of another human during the sale of faulty Schedule I or II illegal drugs. (MN Stat § 609.195)

But Aren’t There Other Charges?

Along with first, second, and third-degree murder, there are a few other types of murder charges you could be faced with. Voluntary and involuntary manslaughter fall near third-degree murder but have a few key differences. Along with these charges, you can also be faced with aiding and abetting a murder or homicide, which can occur if you are with another individual who commits the crime and the death of the victim was reasonably foreseeable to the accomplice.


Individuals can be charged with manslaughter instead of a “murder in the degree” charge if a death results from the defendant creating unreasonable risk and consciously taking chances to cause death or great bodily harm to another. Because of this, many scenarios that start innocently, or even as bad jokes, can result in someone being charged with manslaughter if the State proves that the defendant created an unreasonably risky situation and consciously took chances of causing death or great bodily harm.

Likewise, a manslaughter charge can arise when the offender’s negligent actions cause another individual’s death. Many different situations can be considered manslaughter, such as child abuse or neglect that results in death, vehicular manslaughter, and even mistaking a human as an animal while hunting and, as a result, killing that individual. Individuals charged with manslaughter still face stiff penalties of up to ten years in prison and fines up to $20,000. (MN Stat § 609.205)

Aiding and Abetting a Murder or Homicide

Let’s say Tom and Joe are friends. Joe calls Tom one evening, asking Tom to leave the door unlocked at the studio space Tom shares with him and a few friends. Tom’s the primary renter, and all other tenants pay Tom monthly. Tom trusts Joe but is hesitant because there’s a weapon registered under Tom’s name at the location.

The weapon is always secured; however, a few individuals, including Joe, know the code for emergencies. Tom agrees to leave the door unlocked without giving the weapon a second thought and goes about his evening spending time with family.

Tom’s awakened in the early morning hours by the police with reports of a murder occurring at the studio space. Tom’s even more confused because the police interrogate Tom about his whereabouts, his weapon (the murder weapon), and his relationship with his so-called friend Joe.

At this point, Tom’s only and best option is to immediately contact a criminal defense attorney to protect his rights and freedom.

The State will assert that Tom knew or should have known Joe was likely to access the weapon for a criminal purpose. Now, Tom will be faced with defending himself against an aiding and abetting murder charge by providing the murder weapon to Joe. 

But, there is great hope for Tom because Tom did the right thing; his first call was to his knowledgeable criminal defense attorney, who told him to cease any communication with the authorities until she could get there to advise Tom. This one choice can make the difference between being charged as an aider and abetter to Joe or being called as a witness against Joe.

How Will I Be Defended?

Regardless of the murder charge you’ve been faced with; it’s essential that you find an experienced criminal defense lawyer because a credible and logical defense strategy must be built by an experienced case builder who can utilize the facts and circumstances of the case to communicate your defense to the judge or jury.

  • Justified Homicide: If you’ve been charged with murder and it was performed in the act of self-defense or defense of others, likely, the killing was legally justified. A justified homicide can be proven by identifying reasonable force was used against a credible threat of death or bodily harm. (MN Stat § 609.065)
  • Innocence or Mistaken Identity: Unfortunately, there are instances where innocent individuals are charged with murder. If you feel your identity has been mistaken or you have not committed the murder in question, a criminal defense attorney can help you build a strong case to pursue a dismissal of charges. (MN Stat § 590.11)
  • Insanity: Mental illnesses can hinder individuals’ cognitive ability to appreciate and understand the consequences of their actions. If this is the case, your criminal defense attorney may choose to plead insanity. However, insanity must be proven, and the offender may be committed to a mental institution after the trial. (MN Stat § 611.026)
  • Misfortune or Accident: Mishaps can occur when least expected and are not considered a crime. If you have killed someone accidentally while performing lawful activities, your criminal defense attorney can attempt to reduce manslaughter or murder charges with this defense. (MN Stat § 609.19)

Contact a Dedicated Criminal Defense Lawyer in Minneapolis

If you’ve been faced with a murder charge, legal counsel is necessary as severe consequences will ensue. Lauren Campoli is an experienced and driven criminal defense lawyer that will work closely with you to seek the outcome you deserve through expert knowledge and remarkable dedication. With Lauren Campoli, your future matters. To schedule a case evaluation and legal consultation, contact us online today or call the Law Office of Lauren Campoli at (612)-810-0060.