In New York, the term homicide is used to cover murder charges, manslaughter charges, criminally negligent homicide, vehicular homicide and felony murder. In other words, homicide is an umbrella for the aforementioned types of charges and so we’ll dive into each of the types of charges below.
What is Murder?
Murder in New York is covered by Penal Law 125.00, 125.25, 125.26 and 125.27. Barring any special circumstances, individuals charged with murder are typically charged with murder in the second degree pursuant to Penal Law 125.25. Murder in the second degree covers intentional homicide, meaning a person is guilty of murder in the second degree when, with intent to cause the death of another person, he or she causes the death of such person (or of a third person).
Murder in the second degree also covers felony murder, meaning that a person is guilty of murder when, in the course of and in furtherance of the commission or attempted commission of a felony (or of immediate flight therefrom), that person (or another participant if there be any) causes the death of a person other than one of the participants.
Sometimes, the facts may warrant a specific version of murder. Hence, the intentional killing of a police officer (peace officer, corrections officer) will typically be enhanced and an individual will be charged with murder in the first degree pursuant to Penal Law 125.26. Likewise, murder in the first degree may be charged where the intentional act was carried out as part of a “contract killing” or done in retribution.
The sentences may vary depending on the degree in which someone is charged with murder in New York State. Murder in the second degree, a Class A-1 felony, can carry various different sentencing options, including a 15 years to life sentence or even a 25 years to life sentence. This means the individual would have to spend anywhere from 15 to 25 years in prison until he or she is eligible for parole.
Of course, even if you are facing a sentencing for a murder conviction following a guilty plea or a trial, it is important that your defense attorney put forth mitigation material to persuade a judge to impose a lesser sentence.
What is Manslaughter?
There are also various degrees in which manslaughter can be charged in New York State. Typically, manslaughter charges will encompass a death which takes place due to either reckless conduct or criminally negligent conduct, as opposed to an intentional murder.
In this realm, manslaughter in the first degree pursuant to Penal Law 125.20, a person is guilty when, with intent to cause serious physical injury to another person, he or she causes the death of such person (or of a third person). Even in the first degree, this charge does not require that the actor intended to cause one’s death but rather that he or she intended to cause serious physical injury only, yet a death occurred.
Manslaughter in the second degree, covered by Penal Law 125.15, means that a person is guilty when that person recklessly causes the death of another person. As explicitly stated, this charge does not require that the actor intentionally caused one’s death but rather that the actor recklessly caused one’s death. A person acts recklessly when he or she engages in conduct which creates or contributes to a substantial and unjustifiable risk that another person's death will occur, and when he or she is aware of and consciously disregards that risk, and when that risk is of such nature and degree that disregard of it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation. As one can see, it is important that your defense attorney pushes back on mere negligent conduct from that of recklessness as defined by New York State.
What is Vehicular Manslaughter?
Another common manslaughter charge in New York comes in the form of vehicular manslaughter (Penal Law 125.12 and 125.13). This charge is often brought when an actor used a vehicle (typically in reckless or negligent fashion) and causes a death. Hence, situations such as high speed drag racing or even reckless endangerment in the first degree (Penal Law 120.25) are often seen as the underlying offense which make up a vehicular manslaughter charge. This area, too, is ripe for experienced defense attorneys to push back on during pre-trial litigation and at trial.
Vehicular manslaughter comes in many different forms and degrees but ultimately requires that an individual operated a vehicle in such a reckless fashion (sometimes through being intoxicated or otherwise) as to be responsible for a resulting death.
With the various degrees of manslaughter in New York come various sentencing options for the court. Indeed, some levels of manslaughter may still allow a judge to sentence a defendant to a probation only sentence, while a maximum sentence can typically be up to 15 years of state prison. Given this wide range in sentencing, it is critical with a manslaughter charge that your defense attorney gather, organize, and present persuasive mitigation material to the court.
What is Negligent Homicide?
Criminally negligent homicide in New York covers what most individuals perceive to be involuntary manslaughter. In this realm however, criminally negligent homicide (Penal Law 125.10) is a rung lower than the manslaughter charges discussed above. Hence, when charged with criminally negligent homicide, the government must show that the actor, “with criminal negligence,” causes the death of another person.
A person acts with criminal negligence with respect to a death when that person engages in blameworthy conduct so serious that it creates or contributes to a substantial and unjustifiable risk that another person's death will occur, and when he or she fails to perceive that risk, and when the risk is of such nature and degree that failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.
As one can see, this definition carves out standards that the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt at a trial. An experienced defense attorney may be able to present convincing evidence which shows that even if a death occurred, the actor did not possess the required level of negligence in order to be held responsible.
Example of Murder
Murder in the second degree is the most common form of homicide charged in New York State (Penal Law 125.25). Murder in the second degree simply requires the government to show that a person intended to cause the death of another and did in fact cause that death.
For example, if an individual points a loaded firearm at another and discharges the weapon, striking and killing the other individual, he will be charged with murder in the second degree.
Example of Manslaughter
Manslaughter in the second degree is another very common homicide charge which is brought in New York State. To reiterate, manslaughter requires that the government show reckless conduct as opposed to intentional.
For example, if an individual takes out a knife and begins swinging it in the air on a crowded train, but without aiming it towards one specific individual, the actor may be charged with manslaughter if his swinging the knife resulted in the striking of another and the death of that person. While the individual may not have acted with the intent to kill another, he still acted recklessly to the extent that prosecutors may be able to prove he is guilty of manslaughter at trial.
Possible Defense Strategies Against Homicide Charges
There are many different defenses that can be put forth when facing murder, manslaughter or vehicular manslaughter charges. And, given the serious penalties which come with these charges, homicide cases are typically the ones that end up at trial and require an experienced defense attorney to present a thorough case to a jury.
Self-Defense or Justification Defense
An extremely common and oftentimes successful defense is that of self-defense or justification. Covered by Penal Law 35.15, self-defense comes in many forms but it will typically require the government to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense, adding an extra layer to their burden at trial.
The strongest self-defense cases generally include a defendant who only used the reasonable force necessary to defend oneself or others from imminent danger. Additionally, the individual defendant was unable to retreat to safety and was not the initial aggressor in the encounter. If able to satisfy these conditions, a defendant has a compelling case for self-defense that will likely prevail at trial.
“State of Mind” Defense
Another common defense when charged with intentional murder (murder in the second degree) is a “state of mind” defense. Here, while one may not necessarily be arguing self-defense, he may be able to argue that he did not possess the required “intent” to kill another but was instead acting recklessly or with negligence. Hence, if only charged with intentional homicide, but the facts reasonably show that an individual was reckless, an experienced defense attorney may be able to persuade a jury to return a not guilty verdict in this fashion.
As it pertains to manslaughter charges, in some limited circumstances, self-defense justification may also apply if the above-factors are satisfied at trial (inability to retreat, reasonable force, not the initial aggressor). Recently, the Law Offices of Jason Goldman was able to successfully defend a client during a high-profile grand jury proceeding stemming from a subway stabbing, whereby the client, charged with manslaughther, acted in reasonable self-defense. These charges were dismissed at the grand jury stage and the individual was never indicted.
Lastly, a legitimate misidentification defense may exist where the client can show through GPS or cell-site tracking that he or she was not at the location of the homicide when it took place. Social media, credit card bills, travel statements, and alibi witnesses may help strengthen this defense to the point where a jury is not convinced, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the correct individual is being charged but rather was misidentified during a lineup.
Handle Homicide Charges with the Law Offices of Jason Goldman
Homicide charges – whether murder or manslaughter – represent the most serious offenses in New York State. These cases require thorough handling and investigatory work from day 1 – these efforts often prove critical at a future trial. Because these cases typically carry extremely lengthy plea offers such as 15 to life, or 25 to life, many individuals find themselves going to a trial and having a jury determine the facts. A trial acquittal or a pre-trial dismissal is critical when it comes to homicide charges – contact the Law Offices of Jason Goldman to discuss your defense.