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District of Columbia Second-Degree Murder Law

Depending on the state, murder tends to be divided into two or more degrees. Some states only define first degree murder and classify all other murders that do not fall under this definition as second degree murder. In the District of Columbia, second degree murder encompasses all killings involving malice aforethought except those killings with malice that the district has explicitly defined as first degree murder. This is a quick summary of second degree murder in District of Columbia.

Second Degree Murder: District of Columbia Law

District of Columbia law states that if an individual has the required mental state before the killing of a human being, but the crime was not premeditated, then the crime is considered murder in the second degree. The mental state of malice aforethought is required for both first and second degree murder in the District of Columbia. However, a killing of a human can only be elevated to first degree murder if it satisfies specific elements enacted by the District of Columbia.

The following table outlines the specifics of District of Columbia Second degree murder.

Code Sections

District of Columbia Official Code §22-2103: Murder in the Second Degree

What's Prohibited?

According to District of Columbia second degree murder laws, whoever with malice aforethought kills another is guilty of this crime except those killings with malice aforethought that classify as first degree murder. (See. D.C.C. §22-2101 & §22-2102)

Malice aforethought requires a defendant to either:

  • intend to kill another,
  • intend to inflict great bodily injury,
  • possess reckless indifference to an unjustifiably high risk to human life, or
  • intend to commit a felony which results in a homicide.


A person that is guilty of murder in the second degree commits a class A felony. A conviction under Washington, D.C.'s second degree murder law carries a sentence of up to life in prison. However, the court may impose a sentence of a minimum of 40 years for second degree murder or second degree murder while armed if there are specific aggravated circumstances.

Actions involving the death of another human being are extremely serious. It is important that you fully understand the extent of your charges and all of your rights. If you have been accused of second degree murder and require legal assistance, you can contact a District of Columbia criminal defense lawyer through FindLaw. Visit FindLaw's sections on second degree murder and criminal charges for more articles and information on this topic.

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