Second degree murder in Illinois is similar to first degree murder except that there are certain mitigating circumstances which justify the lesser charge.
Generally, to prove second degree murder, the prosecutor has to prove the same elements as first degree murder. That the defendant killed an individual without lawful justification and intended to kill the victim or do great bodily harm. Or that the defendant killed an individual without lawful justification knowing that his acts create a strong probability of causing death or great bodily harm.
So what is the difference between first and second degree murder? The defendant may have the ability to prove mitigating circumstances which would lessen the charge to second degree murder.
Mitigating circumstances can include:
- At the time of the killing, the defendant was acting under a sudden and intense passion due to being seriously provoked. This "heat of passion" explanation has the effect of showing that the defendant did not have the premeditation to commit the killing. A common example is a husband who walks in on his wife having an affair and kills the wife in a fit of rage.
- At the time of the killing, the defendant believed that the killing would have been lawfully justified, but the belief was unreasonable. Typically, this occurs in self-defense cases where the defendant uses more force than was actually justified by the circumstances.
Defenses to Second Degree Murder Charges
Besides mitigating circumstances, a defendant to second degree murder charges can also offer several possible defenses:
- Lack of intent
- Lack of knowledge
Generally, these defenses show that the defendant did not have the intent to commit the killing. Though you should keep in mind that even if you successfully offer one of these defenses, you could still be charged with a lesser crime like involuntary manslaughter or reckless homicide.
Penalties and Sentences
Second degree murder in Illinois is considered a Class 1 felony. This carries a sentence of between four and twenty years in prison.