Recently, Tulane basketball star Teshaun Hightower was charged with felony murder in Georgia following an incident in an apartment building there which resulted in an individual’s death. While news reports simply indicate that Hightower was charged with murder, they failed to elaborate on the type of murder charge in this case. It is important to understand that within the category of criminal homicide falls murder, voluntary manslaughter, and involuntary manslaughter. Criminal homicide is the intentional, knowing, reckless, or negligently causing the death of another human being. (See 18 § 2501 – Pennsylvania; 2C: 11-2 – New Jersey).
What is Murder in Pennsylvania and New Jersey?
Murder is the more serious category and it is separated by 3 degrees in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Murder of the 1st degree is a criminal homicide committed by an intentional act. While murder of the 2nd degree is committed when a homicide occurs while a defendant or his or her accomplice is engaged in committing a felony crime such as robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, arson, kidnapping, or rape. (See 18 § 2502 – Pennsylvania; 2C: 11-3 – New Jersey).
While New Jersey does not specifically differentiate between murders of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree within its crimes code, it does define the types of murder similarly to Pennsylvania. New Jersey defines all murder as a crime of the 1st degree which is the most serious offense in New Jersey. Murder which results from an intentional act (murder of the 1st degree in Pennsylvania) carries with it a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Murder of the 2nd degree in Pennsylvania also carries with it a life sentence. While murder of the 3rd degree in Pennsylvania carries with it a maximum sentence of 40 years of state incarceration.
Murder of the 2nd degree is felony murder in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and so, the principle actor and his or her accomplice face a potential life sentence if convicted of this crime. It is irrelevant if either the principle or the accomplices intended or set out to kill anyone during the commission of the felony.
Murder vs. Manslaughter
What separates murder from manslaughter in Pennsylvania and New Jersey is malice. Voluntary manslaughter is the intentional killing without lawful justification where the actor kills another due to a sudden and/or intense passion resulting from some serious provocation. Voluntary manslaughter is a felony of the 1st degree in Pennsylvania and a crime of the 2nd degree in New Jersey. In Pennsylvania, the maximum sentence for a felony of the 1st degree is 20 years of state incarceration while the maximum sentence for a 2nd degree crime in New Jersey is 10 years. (See 2C: 11-4 – New Jersey). Aggravated manslaughter is a crime of the 1st degree in New Jersey.
Finally, involuntary manslaughter is the least serious of the crimes within this category. Involuntary manslaughter (Pennsylvania – 18 § 2504) occurs when a person dies as the result of an unlawful act of another who commits it in a reckless or grossly negligent manner or does a lawful act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner. Involuntary manslaughter is a misdemeanor of the 1st degree except where the victim is under the age of 12 and in the care and custody of another where it is a felony of the 2nd degree in Pennsylvania.
At this point Mr. Hightower is charged with felony murder and faces a potential life sentence in Georgia. Georgia, like New Jersey, maintains a grand jury system. This is unlike Pennsylvania, which maintains a preliminary hearing system. The purpose of the grand jury and preliminary hearing systems are to ensure that a person is not held for trial without enough justification (probable cause). It will be interesting to see what happens in this case. For more information on felony murder please contact our office.
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