*This article is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice.

The general public has learned how to code-switch, or to use familiar terms to mean different things in different scenarios. The courtroom is one place where code-switching is common. Some terms that the general public would otherwise be familiar with become more complex here, as their legal definitions can mean the difference between a conviction and an acquittal.

Such is the case with the term “murder.” While the general public has an overarching understanding of what this term implies, it’s been used lightly enough that its meaning can sometimes be lost. If you conduct a PeopleFinders criminal records check and you come across the term “murder,” you need to understand how serious the term is in a legal context. If you don’t, you may misconstrue the data with which you’ve been presented.

What is Murder?

Murder is defined as the premeditated, willful, and illegal killing of another person. The enactor must plan a murder in advance and purposefully place themselves in a position to kill another person for the act to be considered a murder. Otherwise, the act can be qualified as manslaughter or accidental manslaughter. It is the intentionality that makes this crime what it is.

How Can Other Crimes Pair With Murder?

Murder often pairs with other crimes, as many suspects use the facade of another, less-serious crime to hide their intent to murder another person. These crimes can include:

  • Arson
  • Burglary
  • Robbery
  • Kidnapping
  • Sexual Assault

When murder pairs with one of these felonies, states will address the subject with the use of the felony murder rule. This rule states that a person can be accused of first-degree murder if any death occurs while they are in the process of committing one of the aforementioned crimes.

For example: two women set fire to another person’s barn. One of the two women gets caught under a burning support beam and dies due to the impact. Even though the remaining woman did not premeditate the murder of her partner, she can still be accused of first-degree murder under the felony murder rule.

What Are the Degrees of Murder?

The different degrees of murder refer to the severity of the crime that has taken place. The degrees breakdown as follows:

  • First-Degree Murder – Also known as capital murder, this murder involves planning and deliberate malice. The defendant in question will be accused of intentionally and with a sound mind killing their target.
  • Second-Degree Murder – This murder also involves malice and intent to harm, but it does not involve premeditation. If one person kills another in a fit of rage, for example, that death may qualify as second-degree murder.
  • Felony Murder – A felony murder, as already briefly touched on, refers to a killing that takes place during the commission of another felony.

Note that “homicide” is used as a synonym for first-degree murder, as both require premeditation and malice.

What Constitutes a First-Degree Murder?

For a killing to qualify as a first-degree murder, it must include the following:

  • Intent – The defendant, having a clear mind (sane), must have specifically intended to kill someone. Note the vagueness of “someone.” This vagueness means that, should a person plan a murder but kill the wrong person, they can still be accused of first-degree murder because of their intention to end a human life.
  • Premeditation – It is often difficult to determine whether or not a defendant has thought out their plan to kill another person. While pop culture would have many believe that all murders have murder boards, complete with red string, this isn’t the case. Note, however, that premeditation does not mean “a long period of time.” If a person can be accused of thinking of killing another person for even a few minutes, to the point where they’ve developed a plan, then their success constitutes a first-degree murder.
  • Aforethought – Some states measure the intentions of a person based on their malicious aforethought. Malicious aforethought describes an indifference towards human life, but the definition does vary by state.

Without one of these elements, the accused cannot be convicted of first-degree murder. This does not mean that the accused will escape judgment, but rather that their sentence may not be as severe.

What is an Enumerated First-Degree Murder?

Some murders are more specific than others. These are known (on a state-by-state basis) as enumerated murders. These murders involve a specific type of target or method used to kill another person. Examples of enumerated murders include:

  • The killing of a child with excessive force
  • Killings associated with domestic abuse
  • The killing of a police officer or legal representative
  • Killing partnered with arson, sexual assault, or other felonies

What Does It Mean If Murder Appears in a Criminal Records Report?

If you’re reading a PeopleFinders criminal records report and discover a murder listed on your subject’s record, the meaning is fairly straightforward. Your subject will have, at a minimum, been accused of intentionally and maliciously killing another person. You’ll have to read the report carefully, however, to determine whether or not your subject was acquitted, and what, if anything, they were eventually charged with.