Many homicide cases proceed to trial due to the serious penalties that accompany the unlawful killing of another human being. The following are a few of the common defenses used by criminal lawyers in homicide cases:
- Alibi – you claim you were somewhere else when the homicide occurred. In Pennsylvania, if you wish to call an alibi witness to testify on your behalf, you must file a proper “alibi notice” in the Clerk of Courts in the county in which you are being prosecuted. If you do not file an alibi notice, the trial judge may preclude the jury from hearing any testimony from your alibi witness(es). Defendants that take the witness stand will be permitted to testify about alibi evidence without filing an alibi notice.
- Self defense – in Pennsylvania killing another individual is justifiable to protect yourself against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or sexual intercourse compelled by force or threat of force. However, in certain circumstances this defense may not be used. In instances where you are able to safely retreat or you provoked the encounter this defense will not be available at trial.. Read the self defense statute, 18 Pa.C.S. Sec. 505 Use of force in self–protection to determine when this defense is applicable in Pennsylvania.
- Accidental Killing – Murder requires the specific intent to kill. If a jury finds that the killing was accidental, you will be acquitted of the charge of Murder. However, you still may be subject to criminal liability on the charge of Involuntary manslaughter if you performed the act that caused the killing in a reckless or grossly negligent manner.
- Voluntary Intoxication or Drugged Condition – A defendant can have a first or second degree murder charge reduced to third degree murder because the defendant voluntarily intoxicated or drugged themself. Scientific and forensic testimony and/or expert reports must be used to support this defense.
- Insanity – in Pennsylvania, a “legally insane” person cannot be convicted of murder. A person is “legally insane” if they did not know the nature and quality of what they were doing at the time they committed the killing and they did not know what they were doing was wrong. 18 Pa.C.S. Sec. 315. Insanity is not a viable defense for many. If you are successful in this defense, you will likely be committed to the state hospital.
The use of plea bargains is more limited in Murder cases. Homicide cases more frequently result in trial than other types of cases. The District Attorney cannot take the killing of another human being lightly and many times will choose to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. In a homicide case it is usually the defense’s goal to obtain a plea bargain to third degree murder, Voluntary manslaughter or Involuntary manslaughter. A plea to these crimes is preferable to a conviction of first or second degree murder. Murder of the third degree is not as attractive of a plea bargain as it once was. Third degree murder can now result in a sentence in the fifteen to twenty year range. A plea to Voluntary manslaughter is preferable. It carries a much lower minimum sentence. If self defense is not a viable option, the Unreasonable Belief killing section, 18 Pa.C.S. Sec. 2503 of the Voluntary manslaughter statute is an attractive plea when an acquittal of the defendant is unlikely. Involuntary manslaughter, 18 Pa.C.S. Sec. 2504 is a misdemeanor. It is the most attractive plea bargain in a homicide case. Cases in which an acquittal of the defendant is likely may prompt the Commonwealth a plea bargain to Involuntary manslaughter.
If you are under investigation for homicide charges, do not speak with police. Even if you are innocent, call a lawyer immediately. The police will take any suspect seriously and thoroughly question them. You may Contact Jason R. Antoine, Pennsylvania Homicide Defense Lawyer for a free consultation if you or someone you love is under investigation for murder charges.