Second degree murder is the second most serious of the homicide crimes in Missouri. In order to prove that the defendant committed second degree murder, the prosecutor must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant killed an individual without lawful justification.
This degree or level of murder is the middle ground between first degree murder (premeditated and intentional killing) and voluntary manslaughter ("heat of passion murder"). If the criteria for second degree murder aren't met, the defendant may still be found guilty of a lesser murder charge, such as voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter (an accidental killing).
Defenses to Murder Charges
Some defenses to second degree murder are complete, meaning the accused walks free if believed by the court, such as innocence. However, others defenses, such as self-defense or intoxication may be only partial. These partial defenses may only reduce the crime to a lower murder charge, most often to voluntary manslaughter.
Penalties and Sentences
Although Missouri law permits the death penalty, it's only available for first degree murder. Second degree murder is a Class A felony, the highest felony level in Missouri. Sentences are based on the circumstances of the crime. At most, second degree murder can result in life in prison.
Missouri Second Degree Murder Laws: Statute
The following table highlights the main provisions of Missouri's second degree murder law.
Missouri Revised Statutes Section 565.021
What is Prohibited?
A person commits murder in the second degree if he or she does any of the following:
- Knowingly causes the death of another person (note that the "after deliberation" requirement of first degree murder is missing here)
- Purposely causes serious physical injuries to a person which causes his or her death
- Commits or attempts to commit any felony and a person is killed during the felony or the flight from the felony (also known as "felony murder")
Murder in the second degree is a Class A felony punishable by 10-30 years or life in prison. If the murder occurred while committing or attempting another felony (i.e. burglary or robbery, but not murder or manslaughter) than this punishment is in addition to the sentence for the other felony. This rule can make for long sentences that are the equivalent of life imprisonment.
The family of a murder victim can sue the killer for wrongful death, whether or not he or she was convicted of the crime. Famously, this happened with O.J. Simpson, who was not convicted of murder, but did lose his wrongful death lawsuit. If you're sued for a wrongful death, you should consult with an experienced personal injury defense attorney.
Note: State laws are constantly changing -- it's important to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
Dealing with any criminal charge can be a difficult experience. If you find yourself facing any murder or manslaughter charge, you should contact an experienced Missouri criminal defense attorney or public defender for assistance.
Research the Law
Missouri Involuntary Manslaughter Laws: Related Resources