Homicide charges are serious, and demand a serious defense. A conviction often carries years of incarceration. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to protect your liberties and defend your rights. The Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys at Montoya Coleman Refuse to Lose.

Murder of the First Degree

The law governing Murder is 18 Pa.C.S. § 2502, and there are three different degrees.

  1. A criminal homicide constitutes murder of the first degree when it is committed by an intentional killing, which means by poison, or by lying in wait, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate and premeditated killing. Murder of the first degree carries a mandatory life incarceration and, possibly, the death penalty.
  2. A criminal homicide constitutes murder of the second degree when it is committed while the defendant was committing a felony (robbery, rape, or deviate sexual intercourse by force or threat of force, arson, burglary or kidnapping). Murder of the second degree carries a mandatory life incarceration
  3. All other kinds of murder are murder of the third degree. Murder of the third degree is a felony of the first degree and carries a maximum penalty of 40 years incarceration.

Voluntary Manslaughter

The law governing Voluntary Manslaughter is 18 Pa.C.S. § 2503, which states that a person who kills an individual, without lawful justification, commits voluntary manslaughter if at the time of the killing he is acting under a sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation by:

  1.  the individual killed; or
  2. another whom the actor endeavors to kill, but he negligently or accidentally causes the death of another.

Furthermore, a person who intentionally or knowingly kills an individual commits voluntary manslaughter if, at the time of the killing, he believes the circumstances to be such that, if they existed, would justify the killing, but his belief is unreasonable.

Voluntary manslaughter is a felony of the first degree and carries a maximum penalty of 40 years incarceration.

Involuntary Manslaughter

The law governing Involuntary Manslaughter is 18 Pa.C.S. § 2504, which states that a person is guilty of involuntary manslaughter when as a direct result of the doing of an unlawful act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner, or the doing of a lawful act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner, he causes the death of another person.

Involuntary manslaughter is a misdemeanor of the first degree, which carries a maximum penalty of 5 years incarceration. Where the victim is under 12 years of age and is in the care, custody or control of the person who caused the death, involuntary manslaughter is a felony of the second degree and carries a maximum penalty of 10 years incarceration.

Drug Delivery Resulting in Death

The law governing Drug Delivery Resulting in Death is 18 Pa.C.S. § 2506, which states a person commits a felony of the first degree if the person intentionally administers, dispenses, delivers, gives, prescribes, sells or distributes any controlled substance or counterfeit controlled substance in violation of The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act, and another person dies as a result of using the substance.

A conviction of this offense carries a maximum penalty of 40 years incarceration.

Defending Homicide Charges - Motions

At a preliminary hearing, the government must prove that it was more likely than not that the defendant committed the crimes charged (more than 50%). The court must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the government, give the government all reasonable inferences, and may not make credibility determinations. Due to this very low standard, most criminal charges are held for court following a preliminary hearing. However, where the government failed to meet their burden, the defendant may request that the court dismiss criminal charges at the preliminary hearing.

If the court refuses to dismiss criminal charges at the preliminary hearing, the defendant may file a Motion to Quash requesting that a higher court dismiss the charges due to insufficient evidence. The higher court will review the evidence that was presented at the preliminary hearing to determine whether it was more likely than not that the defendant committed the crimes charged. The government may also supplement the record by presenting new evidence at the Motion to Quash hearing.

Under Rule 600 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure, the government must bring the defendant to trial within 365 days of the date that the criminal complaint was filed. However, the government only has 180 days in Philadelphia Municipal Court. Excluded from this time are delays attributable to the defense, and delays where the government was “duly diligent.” The crucial issue for the court to determine is usually  whether the government was duly diligent. For instance, where the government was not ready for trial because a witness failed to appear, the court has to analyze whether the government was duly diligent in securing the witness’s appearance. If the court determines that the government was not duly diligent then the case will be dismissed.

The Constitution requires that all people, and their property, be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and that warrants be supported by probable cause. With a Motion to Suppress, the defendant requests that the court suppress (or not allow) evidence to be used at trial that the police obtained in violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights. For example, a defendant may seek to suppress a firearm that was obtained during a warrantless search of his car, or a statement that he made when he wasn’t read his Miranda warnings.

If, after a hearing, the court determines that the evidence was obtained in violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights, then the evidence cannot be introduced at trial. This often helps the defense’s case immensely as critical evidence cannot be used by the government.

Defending Homicide Charges - Trial

This defense is simply that the crime occurred, but the defendant is not the person that committed it. Maybe the defendant looked like the real murderer, or was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Either way, it is important to have an experienced criminal defense attorney analyze the facts of the case to determine whether there was a mistaken identification.

On the other hand, other times people will straight up lie and claim that the defendant killed someone. Usually a person will be governed by some kind of motive to get someone else into trouble. An experienced criminal defense attorney can determine what the motive was and convince the judge or jury. In addition, nearly every minor detail is of great importance as every inconsistency must be highlighted in order to impeach the witnesses’ credibility. The lawyers at Montoya Coleman are not afraid to call alleged “victims” liars and expose their lies to a judge or a jury.

One of the most common defenses to assault charges is self-defense. Self-defense allows for a person to use reasonable force necessary to protect a person or property. An example is where someone tries shooting the defendant and he shoots them back to protect himself. Self-defense is an affirmative defense, which means that if the judge or the jury believes that the defendant acted in self-defense, it is excuses him of criminal liability for the Murder charge.