Although each State creates their own definitions for crimes, the broader Federal law of the United States classifies murder charges based on premeditation and intent. As a result of these varying classifications, the act of murder is specifically defined by criminal law. Each charge possesses unique characteristics and a subsequent punishment. The following types of murder charges in the United States are as follows:
First Degree Murder: A murder with malice afterthought. This murder charge is the most serious type of violent crime and carries a minimum 20 year prison sentence. First degree murder charges require premeditated thought, evil intent, and severe malice. The following actions would constitute a first degree murder charge: lying in wait (ambush), premeditated murder, murder for hire, murder to cover evidence.
Second Degree Murder: A murderous action with intent but without a premeditated action or planning. This type of murder charge typically arises out of a killing made in a spontaneous reaction, such as a fight. The punishments for 2nd degree murder charges vary, but when compared to a first degree murder charge, are universally attached with a less severe prison sentence.
Third Degree Murder (Manslaughter): This classification of murder is the most susceptible to State interpretation. In a generic sense, manslaughter requires a murderous action without intent. Typical types of third degree murder charges are cases that involve accidental deaths, negligent actions, or reckless scenarios.