The Difference Between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Degree Murder

March 1, 2021

There is often confusion about what distinguishes 1st-degree murder from other types of murder, but the difference often comes down to intent and planning. 

Canadian law distinguishes between three types of homicide – murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree, and murder in the 3rd degree (or manslaughter). In this post, we’ll overview the different types of murder and look at the evidence to prove them in a court, along with 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.

Statistics related to 1st, 2nd and 3rd Degree Murder in Canada

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 saw 69 homicides in 2020, down from 78 in 2019. 

First-Degree Murder

First-degree murder is generally a murder that is planned and deliberate. It 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

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 1st-degree murder 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. 

2nd-Degree Murder

Second-degree Murder, as defined by the Criminal Code, is any murder that does not meet the requirements of first-degree murder. Second-degree murder is still the intentional killing of a person, but it does not have the planning and preparation required for 1st-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

Second-degree murder also carries a mandatory minimum sentence of life imprisonment with parole eligibility after ten years. 

3rd-Degree Murder / Manslaughter

Thrid-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. 

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. 

Do You or a Family Member Require Representation on a Murder Charge?

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 decade of experience and criminal law expertise. Contact William Jaksa today to set up a consultation. 

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