It should come as no surprise that the unlawful killing of another human being—under any circumstance—ranks among the most serious of all felony offenses. In Michigan, homicide—the act of one person killing another—is broken down into several categories by the mental state of the actor in the commission of the killing. The primary categories are murder and manslaughter.
A conviction for first degree murder carries a mandatory prison sentence of life without the possibility of parole. While there are other specific instances of homicide that meet the statutory definition of first degree murder1 —such as a murder of a police officer lawfully engaged in the performance of their duties or a murder during the commission of certain felonies—the defining element of this crime is premeditation. Unless there is an issue of identification, alibi, or self defense, a first degree murder trial in Michigan will be fought on the issue of premeditation and whether the Government can prove that element beyond a reasonable doubt. It is a common misconception that premeditation requires lengthy scheming and planning. While many such murders do have such facts, courts have said that premeditation can happen in an instant.
Understanding an actor’s mental state—or mens rea— is the key to differentiating between the various degrees of murder and manslaughter. You could say that the law creates a hierarchy of these crimes based on the degree of intent, ranging from pre-planned and intentional to accidental.
Second degree murder encompasses all other kinds of murder that are not first degree murder and is punishable by life imprisonment or any term of years.2 Second degree murder in Michigan still requires malice or reckless disregard for the value of human life. The crime of voluntary manslaughter recognizes the frailty of the human psyche and concerns the common law definition of a crime of passion. Involuntary manslaughter and other statutory equivalents3 such as delivery causing death or operating while intoxicated causing death require only that the actor intended to do the act that caused the death, not that he/she intended to cause the death itself. For example, a person intended to sell heroin to someone, but didn’t intend for the buyer to overdose and die. Or in the drunk driving context, intended to drink the alcohol and got behind the wheel of a car, but didn’t intend to hit and kill someone with the vehicle. There are of course the substantial defenses to the types of crimes mentioned above, such as self-defense or an alibi that proves you were somewhere else or with someone else.
There are of course the substantial defenses to the types of crimes mentioned above, such as self-defense or an alibi that proves you were somewhere else or with someone else. If you or someone close to you is charged with murder or manslaughter in Michigan you no doubt realize the seriousness of the situation. Our defense attorneys have hands-on, in depth experience representing clients charged with murder and manslaughter. We have fought for our clients to win favorable outcomes in the face of these most serious charges. Whether it is negotiating a plea reduction or challenging the evidence in pretrial motions or at trial, Mas/Stig-Nielsen is prepared and equipped to aid you in presenting your best defense.
1 MCL 750.316.
2 MCL 750.317.
3 For example, Michigan also punishes as manslaughter the discharge of a firearm intentionally aimed without malice resulting in death, MCL 750.329. Statutes define crimes of homicide than manslaughter, such as negligent homicide, MCL 750.324; and careless, reckless, or negligent use of firearms, MCL 752.861.