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Wisconsin Second-Degree Murder

Second-degree murder in many states is a form of middle ground between an intentional killing or first-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter, or a murder committed in the "heat of passion" or under the stress of a seriously provoking situation. Occasionally, states will punish wrongdoers for felony murder (killing someone while committing or attempting a felony) in this statute or punish people selling drugs that kill individuals.

In Wisconsin, the second-degree murder law does include a deaths related to drug making or selling provision, but doesn't include the felony murder, as it has its own statute. Second-degree murder was revamped in the 1980s and turned into first-degree reckless homicide. This is an aggravated or excessively reckless homicide. The behavior that caused the death in these situations was so reckless that anyone could (or should) see it was likely to kill someone. Playing Russian roulette is an example of extremely reckless behavior that could be punished under this law in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Second-Degree Murder Law: Statute

The Wisconsin's second-degree murder or grossly reckless homicide law is detailed in the table below.

Code Sections

Wisconsin Statutes Section 940.02: First-Degree Reckless Homicide

What is Prohibited?

First-Degree Reckless Homicide prohibits either of the following:

  • Recklessly causing the death of another human or an unborn baby being showing an utter disregard for human life, including the life of an unborn baby or pregnant woman. For example, shooting a gun into a crowd, almost everyone can easily recognize that the bullet may hit and kill someone.
  • Causing the death of another by making or selling drugs (including ketamine or flunitrazepam - a roofie) if the person takes the drug and dies as result of its use, if multiple people are involved in the distribution of a drug that kills someone all of them can be found guilty of the death. Also includes administering a drug illegally to a human who dies from the use of the drug.


Both First-Degree Reckless (non-drug related) and Second-Degree Intentional Homicide (equivalent to voluntary manslaughter in other states) are Class B felonies. Class B felonies can be receive a maximum sentence of 60 years in prison. This can be a life sentence for many inmates.

For deaths caused by making, selling, or administering drugs, the penalty is a Class C felony, which can be punished by up to 40 years in prison and a fine not to exceed $100,000.


The prior version of this law allowed the mitigating circumstance of "adequate provocation" (such as seeing your spouse sleeping with a lover and killing them both) to lower the second-degree murder charge to manslaughter. However, now that first-degree reckless and second-degree intentional homicide carry the same penalty, there's no mitigation and therefore no defense on that basis.

However, other defenses may apply, depending on the facts of the case. Some defenses are "complete,” so if believed by the judge or jury the person will be found not guilty. Complete defenses include innocence and insanity, at least sometimes. Other defenses are partial, meaning they lower the offense to a less serious form of murder or homicide, such as self-defense or intoxication, again only sometimes.

Note: State laws change frequently-- it's important to verify the laws you're researching by asking a local lawyer or conducting your own legal research.

Research the Law

Wisconsin Second-Degree Murder Laws: Related Resources

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