Understanding First-Degree vs. Second-Degree Murder

In the realm of criminal law, murder is considered one of the most serious offenses. In Indiana, as in other states, murder charges are categorized into degrees, primarily first-degree and second-degree murder.

Both carry severe penalties, but they differ in terms of intent, premeditation, and circumstances surrounding the crime. If you are facing murder charges, you need an experienced Evansville criminal defense lawyer to represent you.

Contact our law offices today for a free case evaluation.

First-Degree Murder

Indiana Code § 35-42-1-1 defines murder as knowingly or intentionally killing another human being.

First-degree murder, also known as intentional murder, is the most serious form of homicide in Indiana. It involves a deliberate act with the specific intent to kill another person.

Key Elements

  1. Intent: The perpetrator must have a clear intention to cause the death of another person. This means that the person acted with a purpose or conscious objective to cause death.
  2. Premeditation: The act must be premeditated, meaning the perpetrator planned or thought about the act beforehand. This doesn’t mean that the person had to plan it for a long time. Even a moment’s thought can be enough for a court to find premeditation.
  3. Malice Aforethought: This refers to the perpetrator’s state of mind at the time of the crime. They must have acted with a reckless disregard for human life.


In Indiana, first-degree murder is punishable by life imprisonment or the death penalty in certain cases. The court considers several factors when deciding on the sentence, including the severity of the crime, the defendant’s criminal history, and whether there were any mitigating or aggravating circumstances.

Second-Degree Murder

Second-degree murder is a step down from first-degree murder but still carries severe penalties. It typically involves an intentional killing that wasn’t premeditated or planned.

Key Elements

  1. Intent: Similar to first-degree murder, second-degree murder also requires an intent to kill. However, it does not require premeditation. This means that if a person intended to cause serious bodily harm that resulted in death, they could be charged with second-degree murder.
  2. Reckless Indifference: This refers to situations where the perpetrator acts with a depraved indifference to human life, resulting in death.


In Indiana, second-degree murder is punishable by a lengthy prison sentence, typically not less than 45 years. Just like with first-degree murder, several factors are considered when deciding on the sentence.

first vs second-degree murder

Murder Defenses 

In Indiana, there are several defenses that can be used to respond to murder charges. If these defenses are successfully proven, they can lead to the reduction or even dismissal of the charges. Here’s a detailed look at some common defenses.

Claim of Innocence 

The simplest defense is claiming innocence, where the defendant asserts they did not commit the crime. This defense can be supported by various forms of evidence such as alibis, witness testimonies, or surveillance videos.

Absence of Intent or Knowledge 

The defendant could argue that they lacked the intent or knowledge required for a murder charge, which could be applicable if the death was accidental. As per Indiana Code § 35-42-1-1, murder is defined as knowingly or intentionally killing another human being, so proving a lack of intent or knowledge could serve as a valid defense.


Sometimes, intoxication can be used as a defense. If the defendant was under the influence at the time of the crime, they might argue that they were incapable of forming the necessary intent for a murder charge.


The insanity defense is based on the premise that the defendant was mentally ill at the time of the crime and therefore could not comprehend the nature and quality of their actions. This defense requires substantial medical evidence and expert testimony.


This defense is applicable when the defendant asserts that they acted in response to an immediate threat to their life or safety. The force used must be proportionate to the threat faced.

All self-defense laws in Indiana fall under Indiana Code 35-41-2, also known as the Indiana Castle Doctrine. According to this statute, all individuals within Indiana have the right to defend themselves or a third party from violence or death.

These defenses require an in-depth understanding of Indiana’s laws and legal procedures. Anyone facing murder charges should seek legal counsel from an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Call an Evansville Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you are facing homicide charges, it’s essential to contact an experienced Evansville criminal defense attorney right away.

Verdelski Miller has over thirty years of experience and is ready to fight tirelessly to protect your rights. Contact our offices at 812-425-9170 for a free case evaluation.

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