The taking of a human life is considered to be the greatest criminal offense—particularly when that act is deliberate, intentional, and committed with premeditation. It is the only crime for which a person convicted may pay with his or her own life, a capital offense that takes the law of retribution, lex talionis or "an eye for an eye," to its fullest extent.
Of course, not every act of homicide is premeditated, nor is every such act intentional. In some cases, including combat or self defense, the taking of another's life may be completely legal and even justified. Not every act of homicide—an act which results in the death of another person—is murder.
At its simplest, homicide is defined as "the killing of one human being by another;" however, Oklahoma law defines four categories of homicide (21 O.S. § 692):
Within these categories, there are degrees of offense and strict factors which determine if or how an act of homicide should be criminally charged.
First Degree Murder
Murder in the first degree is the most egregious of all homicide charges, and the potential consequences of conviction include life in prison without parole or even death. First degree murder is charged under certain specific conditions of the act of homicide:
- Committed with "malice aforethought," or the intentional and deliberate act of unlawfully taking a life
- Committed during the commission of a felony including murder, attempted murder, shooting with intent to kill, discharging a weapon into a building, forcible rape, armed robbery, kidnapping, escaping from custody, eluding police, first degree burglary, first degree arson, and drug distribution, manufacturing, or trafficking
- Committed through malicious injury to a child or permitting such abuse to occur; death from child abuse or enabling child abuse
- Solicitation of murder or murder-for-hire to further a drug crime
- Intentional killing of a law enforcement officer, correctional officer, or corrections employee performing official duties
Anyone convicted of murder in the first degree faces life in prison, life in prison without parole, or death as a possible consequence. First degree murder convictions are not eligible for deferred sentencing. It is an "85 percent crime," which means that the convicted person must serve at least 85 percent of his or her sentence before becoming eligible for parole, and he or she may not receive credits to earn a reduction in the sentencing below 85 percent. For a person sentenced to life in prison, "life" is calculated as 45 years for the purpose of parole eligibility, meaning a person sentenced to life in prison for first degree murder must serve a minimum of 38.25 years prior to the possibility of parole.
Capital Murder and the Death Penalty
Under certain conditions, first degree murder is punishable by death. Prosecutors may seek the death penalty if specified aggravating factors are present in a first degree murder charge (21 O.S. § 701.12):
- The defendant was previously convicted of a felony involving the use or threat of violence to the person;
- The defendant knowingly created a great risk of death to more than one person;
- The person committed the murder for remuneration or the promise of remuneration or employed another to commit the murder for remuneration or the promise of remuneration;
- The murder was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel;
- The murder was committed for the purpose of avoiding or preventing a lawful arrest or prosecution;
- The murder was committed by a person while serving a sentence of imprisonment on conviction of a felony;
- The existence of a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society; or
- The victim of the murder was a peace officer as defined by Section 99 of this title, or correctional employee of an institution under the control of the Department of Corrections, and such person was killed while in performance of official duty.
Regardless of the circumstances of the offense or the presence of any aggravating factors, there are certain individuals who are excluded from capital punishment. These include individuals who are mentally retarded as demonstrated by an IQ of 70 or below, if the retardation manifested itself before the defendant was 18, and anyone who was under the age of 18 at the time he or she committed the offense.
Second Degree Murder
Murder in the second degree is any act of homicide that does not meet the conditions of first degree murder but does meet the following conditions under 21 O.S. § 701.8:
- When perpetrated by an act imminently dangerous to another person and evincing a depraved mind, regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual; or
- When perpetrated by a person engaged in the commission of any felony other than the unlawful acts set out in Section 1, subsection B, of this act.
Second degree murder does not require "malice aforethought" or premeditation. Acts of homicide committed through the wanton disregard for human life are often among those charged as second degree murder. Furthermore, if a death occurs during the commission of a felony other than those specifically designated under the first degree murder statute, the person or persons committing the crime will be charged with second degree murder.
Second degree murder carries a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and maximum of life behind bars.
State law includes unborn children as potential victims of homicide. If a criminal act results in the termination of pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth, or any death of an unborn child, the person who commits the act can be charged with murder.
Exceptions to this law, under 21 O.S. § 691 include:
- Legal abortion to which the pregnant woman consented
- Usual, standard, and customary medical diagnostic testing and treatment
The mother of the unborn child can only be charged with homicide the death is caused by the woman's criminal act.
Homicide Defense Lawyer in Oklahoma
Murder and manslaughter cases are complex and challenging, and the consequences of conviction are dire. If you are accused of causing the death of another of taking someone's life, it is imperative that you obtain top quality defense representation immediately. Reduced charges, suppressed evidence, dismissal of charges, and acquittal at trial are all possible defense strategies in your favor with the legal counsel and representation of an experienced criminal defense lawyer.