What is Murder?

What is Murder? The word "felony" originates from the French term for crimes punishable by taking the perpetrator's possessions. That definition is no longer taken literally, but felonies are the most serious level of criminal offenses. In the United States, crime is generally divided into two categories: misdemeanors (minor offenses) and felonies (major crimes).

Misdemeanors are generally punished by a fine, community service, or probation but felonies are those convictions that include one or more years in prison.

When a murder takes place a person is killed but there are many different ways the court system may punish the killer: sometimes punishment is severe and other times the crime is downplayed. It all depends on whether a prosecutor can prove intent, or premeditation. At its most severe, when aggravated premeditation can be proven, a murder conviction may carry the most serious penalty available in the U.S. justice system, which is death (not all states have the death penalty).

In most places a murder conviction is automatically a felony-level crime because the punishment is more than a year in prison. Those convicted of murder are generally in prison much longer than a year, but the sentence may vary depending on the severity of the crime.

There are several categories of homicides, including murder, for which a person may be tried:

  • Capital murder – any murder for which the punishment may be the death penalty
  • First degree murder – premeditated murder or a death that results from a violent crime
  • Second degree murder – unplanned killing of another person

Unlike murder, which requires a conscious intent to cause harm or death, manslaughter is a crime in which the death of another person is accidental.

  • manslaughter – when a death is a result of provocation, self-defense, or impairment; oftentimes a crime of passion
  • involuntary manslaughter – unintentional killing of another
  • vehicular manslaughter – a felony crime in which death results from negligent operation of a vehicle, including DUI or reckless driving

Many states have established variations of the above terms, including New York's first degree manslaughter, in which the perpetrator acts recklessly and a death results; Texas includes an intoxication manslaughter, which is causing accidental death as a result of being intoxicated. Again, if convicted and sentenced to more than one year in prison the crime is automatically a felony.

Consequences of Felon Status

A person who has been convicted of a felony is considered a felon. Being a felon carries with it many lifelong consequences, specifically restrictions on future independence, but also may include facing elevated charges if re-arrested (misdemeanor charges may have felony implications). Automatic restrictions on those convicted of felonies include losing the right to vote (in most jurisdictions), inability to carry a firearm, loss of federal benefits (potentially including food stamps and housing), felons may not join the armed services or run for federal office; felons may not hold many jobs including in labor organizations and securities and banking (trading stocks and bonds).

Famous Felons

In 1994, famous former NFL player and television sports commentator O.J. Simpson went on trial for the brutal stabbing murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and a friend of hers, Ron Goldman, outside the woman's residence in Brentwood, a suburb of Los Angeles. Simpson had a history of domestic violence complaints against him, made by his ex-wife. Events preceding the trial, including a potential suicide note from Simpson and a lengthy car chase that was broadcast on live television, were indications of things to come. The trial lasted 11 months and was watched extensively across the country. Although a conviction could have carried the death sentence, the trial was allegedly waylaid by ancillary issues like racist practices of the Los Angeles police, and Simpson was found not guilty. A civil trial held in 1997 found him responsible for the murders and awarded millions of dollars to his victims' families. Simpson wasn't convicted of a felony until he was tried in 2007 of kidnapping and other charges when he used a gun to reclaim sports memorabilia he claimed had been stolen from him.