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Firm Name Pittsburgh Criminal Lawyer
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Pittsburgh Murder Defense Lawyer

Statewide, Pennsylvania experienced over 600 murders in 2014. In addition to the loss of those lives, the cost of murder includes the grief and emotional trauma of the victims’ friends and family, as well as the friends and family of the people charged with committing the murders. It also takes a significant toll on the population at large, with news of violent incidents stirring fear and altering the way that people go about their lives, especially in neighborhoods with very high rates of violent crime. With the severe and life altering penalties of a murder conviction, it’s best to hire a trustworthy Pittsburgh murder defense lawyer to handle your case.

The law obviously treats these crimes as serious breaches of the peace and punishes them accordingly.

Pennsylvania’s Law on Murder

Murder is one of two forms of “criminal homicide” in Pennsylvania (the other is manslaughter). In order for a homicide to be criminal, the defendant has to have acted:

  • Intentionally
  • Knowingly
  • Recklessly or
  • Negligently

Note that the killing has to be unlawful. If the circumstances meet the requirements for justified use of force in self-defense or in defense of other people or property, there is no criminal homicide and thus no murder.

The specific charge of murder is divided into three degrees:

  • First—the killing was intentional
  • Second—the killing occurred in the course of committing a felony; whether the defendant was the person committing the felony or was only an accomplice is irrelevant
  • Third—all other murders that do not fit the definition of first or second degree murder

In essence, first degree requires specific intent, second applies only to felony murder, and third applies when the killing lacks the element of intent and planning required for first degree.

Murder of a law enforcement officer is a separate crime, also divided into degrees:

  • First—intentionally killing an officer, knowing that the person is an officer, while the officer is performing his duty
  • Second—essentially second degree (felony) murder, in which the felon or accomplice kills an officer performing his duty

Penalties for Murder in Pittsburgh

All degrees of murder are severely punished, with first degree punishable by death or life without parole. Even third degree murder is punishable by a lengthy prison term.

Note that the death penalty has been suspended in Pennsylvania pending review of its use. However, our state still has well over 100 people on death row.

Defendants who were under the ages of 18 and under 15 are sentenced under a separate law and will need a skilled Pittsburgh juvenile crimes lawyer. Even under that law, first degree murder may be punished by life without parole if the judge decides that is appropriate, after a hearing to consider all the relevant circumstances.

Defenses to Allegations of Murder

Potential defenses to murder charges can be of several different types:

  • The defendant simply did not commit the act that caused the death (establishing alibi, or rebutting state evidence to the degree that it is clear you could not be the one who committed the crime).

  • The defendant committed the act, but the killing was justified under the circumstances (self-defense; defense of others; some cases of defense of property).

  • The defendant committed the act, but lacked requisite mental capacity (inebriated; mentally ill; etc.), which reduces the charge from first degree to third degree.

  • The defendant committed the act, but without the necessary intent to establish the degree in the charge (also reduces the case from first degree to third degree).

  • The prosecution did not establish the defendant’s guilt to the degree required in a murder case: beyond a reasonable doubt (based on rebuttal of state evidence or weakness in the state’s case).

  • Violation of the defendant’s right by the police or prosecution (some may end the case, while others result in exclusion of some state’s evidence).

Get Experienced Legal Help From a Pittsburgh Murder Defense Lawyer

Murder is the most serious charge you can face. Conviction will almost certainly put you in prison for many years, possibly the rest of your life, or even land you on death row. The process of the case, from initial investigation of the crime to arrest to trial, can be lengthy, expensive, and extremely hard on everyone involved.

There is no way to make a murder case simple or easy. But the help of a dedicated Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney familiar with all aspects of murder cases can minimize the problems and maximize the chances that you get your life back.

In the Pittsburgh area and throughout Western Pennsylvania, murder defense attorney Gary Gerson offers 25 years of successful defense of those charged with crimes of all kinds, including murder. If you have been charged with murder or are being investigated in connection with a murder, don’t waste time; call the Gerson law offices today.

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