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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. This article will explain what is 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree murders, it will talk about the definition of first degree murders and explain whats second degree murder includes.

Canadian law distinguishes between three types of homicide, three different degrees of murder. Murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree, and murder in the third degree, or more commonly referred to as manslaughter. In this post, we’ll outline the different types of murder and look at the evidence required to prove them in a court, along with the 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 by deception to do anything that causes their own death.


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 simple means that someone is to blame for the murder. That the murder was someone’s fault.
Cambridge Dictionary


According to Statistics Canada, in 2019, there were 678 homicides in Canada. This is a rate of 1.8 per 100,000 people and up 1.58% from the previous year. In Toronto, the city recorded 69 homicides in 2020, down from 78 in 2019.


First-Degree Murders

What is 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree murders? First-degree murders meaning is generally a murder that is planned and deliberate. 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 certain 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 offences, 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.

Second Degree Murders

Second-degree Murders meaning, as defined by the Criminal Code, is any murder that does not meet the requirements of first-degree murder. 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 Proved?

The crown must also prove second-degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt. The Crown must prove that the accused is the person that committed an unlawful act and that this unlawful act caused the death of the individual and that the accused had the intent for 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 carries a mandatory minimum sentence of life imprisonment with parole eligibility after ten years.

3rd-Degree Murder / Manslaughter

Third-degree murders, 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 Proved?

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.


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

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