In Michigan, second-degree murder is best described by what it is not. It's not a premeditated killing like first-degree murder, nor is felony murder, where a death happens during a very serious and violent felony listed in the statute such as kidnapping or carjacking. Second-degree murder is either:
- An unplanned, intentional killing; or
- A death caused by a reckless disregard for human life.
First degree murder requires that a defendant plan and intentionally carry out the killing, whereas second degree murder requires that the killing either be intentional or reckless, and occur in the spur of the moment.
For example, let's say Danica drives into a large crowd of people with her car. Maybe Danica only intended to scare people and watch them run away, but driving her car into a crowd demonstrates a grave disregard for human life. So if Dale and Jeff die as a result, Danica would likely be charged with second-degree murder.
Michigan’s Second-Degree Murder Statute
The following table highlights the main provisions of Michigan's second-degree murder laws.
Michigan Penal Code Section 750.317
What is Prohibited?
A non-premeditated killing, resulting from an assault or act intending in which death of the victim was a distinct possibility.
Life imprisonment or a prison term of varying length with the possibility of parole.
Possible wrongful death lawsuit
Second-degree murder laws also encompass “impulsive killings with malice aforethought,” or killings that occur in the heat of the moment and don’t leave any time for premeditation on the part of the killer. Another type of second-degree murder are killings that are the result of a “depraved indifference to human life.” While different jurisdictions have different definitions for depraved indifference, it generally means that the perpetrator showed an utter disregard for the potential for injury or death in his or her actions. Some common defenses to second-degree murder include:
- Insanity: defendant must prove that he or she was mentally unfit at the time of the killing, not available in all jurisdictions;
- Self-defense: defendant must prove that he or she was not in a prohibited place, was not at fault in the situation, and had a reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm; and
- Intoxication: defendant must prove they were involuntarily intoxicated (voluntary intoxication is generally not accepted as a defense).
Regardless of the circumstances or defenses, second-degree murder penalties can be severe.
Michigan Second-Degree Murder Law: Related Resources
Criminal charges, especially a homicide charge, are extremely serious. If you do find yourself facing a murder or felony murder charge, you may wish to contact a Michigan criminal defense lawyer for assistance. For more general information on this topic, you can continue your research in FindLaw’s homicide section.