In Your Toughest Times
We Will Help You Find Your Way
We Will Help You Find Your Way
To a Positive Future


Latest News

This article was last updated: Nov. 11th, 2023

There is often confusion about what distinguishes first-degree murder from other types of murder charges, such as second-degree and manslaughter. The difference often comes down to intent and planning.

Canadian law distinguishes between three types of homicide and three different degrees of murder: murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree, and murder in the third degree, more commonly referred to as manslaughter. Every type of murder involves different evidence required to prove them in court and has different mandatory minimum sentencing requirements.

Murder, as defined by the Criminal Code, is when a person causes the death of a human being, means to cause the death, or causes bodily harm, knowing it could cause death. A death is culpable if the murders were planned or due to an unlawful act, criminal negligence, or by causing that human being through threats of violence, fear of violence, or deception to do anything that causes their own death.

If you are facing a murder charge, you need an experienced team of criminal defence attorneys on your side. Contact our law office today for assistance if you or a loved one are facing criminal charges.


When most people hear the words homicide and murder, they think of the same thing. However, there is a big difference between the two. Homicide is defined as the unlawful killing of one human being by another, but murder is specifically defined as homicide with malice aforethought. This means that murder is premeditated, whereas homicide can be accidental or in the heat of passion. While all homicides are tragic, not all murders are punishable by death. It is important to understand the distinction between these two terms when discussing cases with criminal lawyers and judges.

Culpable simply means that someone is to blame for the murder or that the murder was someone else’s fault. In most cases, if there is blame to be assigned for someone else’s death, it is deemed a homicide.


According to Statistics Canada, in 2022, there were 874 homicides in Canada. This is a rate of 2.25 per 100,000 people and up 0.17% from the previous year. In Toronto, the city recorded 136 homicides in 2022, up from 119 in 2021.


First-degree murders, second-degree murders, and third-degree murders are all serious charges that carry various penalties. The definition of these murders varies slightly depending on the circumstances of the killing and the evidence against you. Understanding the differences between the murder types can help you build a legal defence strategy for your case.

The main differences between the types of murder include:

Severity of the Crime

Premeditated, intentional murders will always receive a higher degree of criminal charges. If there is no intent and no premeditation, your charges will be reduced.

Severity of the Punishment

The more severe the offence is, the more severe the punishment is. First-degree murders have the highest levels of punishment, while third-degree murder charges carry the least. However, all murder charges come with penalties that can impact you for the rest of your life.

What is First-Degree Murder?

What are 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree murders? First-degree murder is generally a murder that is planned and deliberate. The first-degree murder definition also includes four types of culpable homicide:

  • Murders that were planned and deliberate
  • Situations involving contracted murder or criminal organizations
  • Murder of a police officer or correctional officer performing their duties
  • Murders committed in the course of criminal acts such as hijacking, sexual assault, kidnapping, terrorism, criminal harassment, or intimidation
  • Murder while committing intimidation of a justice system participant, or a journalist reporting on organized crime

The murder of a police officer while in the performance of their duties is always considered a first-degree murder. Further, a homicide that happens in the context of a domestic assault context is not automatically considered a first-degree murder. It certainly can be a first-degree murder if it was planned and deliberate, but solely being domestic assault-related does not elevate it to a first-degree.

How is This Proven?

To convict on first-degree murder, the Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of planning and deliberately killing the person. The judge or jury must also be satisfied that the accused’s actions were an essential part of the killing.

Mandatory Minimum Sentence and Parole Info

Anyone convicted of first-degree murder charge receives the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment with parole eligibility after 25 years. If offenders have multiple murder offenses, they may receive consecutive sentences where they are ineligible for parole. When offenders are released on parole, they remain on parole for the remainder of their lives and must meet certain conditions or risk returning to prison.

If the offender is 16 or 17 at the time of the offense and tried as an adult, they can face 10 years of mandatory imprisonment. If the offender is 14 or 15 and tried as an adult, they can face five to seven years of mandatory imprisonment.

What is Second-Degree Murder?

Second-degree murder’s meaning, as defined by the Criminal Code, is any murder that does not meet the requirements of first-degree murder. The second-degree murder definition still includes the intentional killing of a person, but it does not have the planning and preparation required for first-degree murder. An example would be a murder that happens during an argument.

How is This Proven?

The crown must also prove second-degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt. The Crown must prove that the accused is the person who committed an unlawful act, that this unlawful act caused the death of the individual, and that the accused had the intent to murder.

Aggravating and Mitigating Circumstances

For second-degree murder cases, the judge can decide on parole eligibility based on the Crown, defence, and jury recommendations. If the accused is a repeat offender, they will automatically receive a life sentence with no parole for 25 years. In some cases, a 2nd-degree murder charge may be reduced to manslaughter if the accused’s mental faculties were impaired or if they committed the homicide in the heat of passion.

Mandatory Minimum Sentence and Parole Info

When it comes to 2nd-degree murders, they carry a mandatory minimum sentence of life imprisonment with parole eligibility after ten years. If the offender is 16 or 17 and tried as an adult, they will face seven years in prison. If the offender is 14 or 15 and tried as an adult, they will face five to seven years in prison.

What is Third-Degree Murder?

Third-degree murder, also known as manslaughter, is a homicide committed without intent to kill though they may have intended to cause harm. Categories of manslaughter include when a person commits a crime that unintentionally results in another person’s death or when the death results from criminal negligence. An example is if a person fires a gun carelessly and unintentionally hits a bystander.

Manslaughter charges can be even more complex to litigate for both the Crown Attorney and a criminal defence lawyer given the burden of proof.

How is This Proven?

Manslaughter is based on the fact that the accused was doing something wrong but did not intend to kill anyone. It can be challenging to prove the intent of the accused in court. Many cases that could be tried for murder end up with a guilty plea for manslaughter.

Mandatory Minimum Sentence and Parole Info

There is no minimum sentence for manslaughter unless it is committed with a firearm. In this case, the minimum sentence is four years.

How Do You Defend Against Murder Charges?

Murder charges are serious and can lead to long-term penalties. Facing a murder charge could lead to years of your life in prison without the possibility of parole. First-degree murders, second-degree murders, and third-degree murders all carry criminal consequences. Working with a team of criminal defence attorneys is the best way to protect your future and safeguard your freedom.

Your defence strategy will depend on your criminal history and the evidence against you. However, there are a few different legal defences that an attorney may use. Those strategies include:

Accidental Killing

Murder without intention or forethought often carries fewer penalties than one that is premeditated. If you did not mean to kill someone, you can provide evidence that it was done in the heat of the moment or because of strong emotions. This could lead to reduced charges or fewer penalties.

Mistaken Identity

Many times, the prosecution’s case relies on eyewitness testimonies. However, witnesses aren’t perfect, and people have been known to wrongly accuse innocent individuals. If you can prove that you were elsewhere at the time of the murder, you can show that you were not involved in the crime.


The law allows you to use a certain amount of force if you believe you or someone else is in danger. If you hurt or killed someone in self-defence, it is very likely that your charges will be reduced or dropped.

Compromised Evidence

The Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were the one who committed the act. If any evidence against you was compromised in any way, the entire case against you is flawed and should not be pursued.

Illegal Evidence Seizure

Law enforcement officers have strict regulations they must abide by when collecting evidence. If you are charged with a crime but the evidence against you was not collected correctly, it may be thrown out.


Murder charges are some of the most serious criminal charges you can face under Canadian law. When you are charged with murder, your future and your freedom are on the line. You need a criminal attorney who is prepared to defend your case until you get the outcome you deserve.

If you or a family member are facing murder charges, you need experienced help from someone who understands your rights and has the substantial experience to build a defence. William Jaksa is a Toronto criminal defence lawyer with over fifteen years of experience and criminal law expertise. Contact William Jaksa today to set up a consultation.

Related Articles