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Kentucky Murder Law

A homicide is when someone takes the life of another, whether legally or illegally. In Kentucky, criminal homicide is divided into four separate crimes: murder, first-degree manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter, and reckless homicide. This article focuses on the most serious of these crimes, murder.

Some states divide the crime of murder into different degrees, but in Kentucky there is simply one statute that criminalizes murder. Generally, murder is defined as the unlawful killing of another with malice (or the intent to kill or cause serious bodily injury). However, each state individually defines what is considered murder within its own borders. Kentucky's criminal code defines murder as the intentional killing of another person. The following chart illustrates the specifics of Kentucky's murder law.

Code Section

Kentucky Revised Statute section 507.020: Murder

What's Prohibited?

Intending to cause the death of another person, and actually causing the death of that person (or a third person).


If the offender acted under the influence of an extreme emotional disturbance for which there was a reasonable explanation or excuse.
  • If the offender acted under an extreme emotional disturbance than he would likely be prosecuted for first-degree manslaughter (aka voluntary manslaughter), rather than murder.


Kentucky has the death penalty and murder is a capital offense. Therefore murder in Kentucky can be punished by death.

Statute of Limitations

In many states, there is a statute of limitations (or a timeframe during which an offender can be prosecuted) for murder. However, Kentucky doesn't have a statute of limitations when it comes to felonies. Therefore, murder (which is a felony) doesn't have a statute of limitations in effect in Kentucky and an offender can be prosecuted at any time after committing a qualifying murder.

Manslaughter in Kentucky

It is important to note that the main different between murder and manslaughter is the element of malice. Malice, the intention or desire to cause harm, is an element of murder but isn't needed for manslaughter. So if a killer intended to kill or injure the victim then he will generally be charged with murder, but if not, then the killer will likely be charged with the lesser crime of manslaughter.

Reckless Homicide

In addition to murder and manslaughter, Kentucky also has the lesser crime of reckless homicide. Reckless homicide is simply when an offender recklessly causes the death of another person. Generally, an action is considered to be reckless if the actor consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk given the circumstances. Reckless homicide is a Class D felony and is punishable by one to five years in prison.

Additional Resources

If you have been charged with murder in Kentucky contact a local criminal defense attorney.

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