Criminal Homicide

Pittsburgh Criminal Homicide Lawyer Helping You When You Need It Most

Criminal homicide is an umbrella term that categorizes a series of violent offenses.  More specifically, criminal homicide is the intentional, knowing, reckless, or negligent causation of death (of another human being).  The intentions of the offender and the circumstances surrounding the offense can vary quite significantly.

Criminal homicide offenses include:

  • Murder
  • Attempted murder
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Involuntary manslaughter
  • Drug delivery resulting in death

If you’ve been charged with criminal homicide, you could be facing penalties that involve decades of imprisonment and tens of thousands of dollars in fines.  We encourage you to get in touch with a Pittsburgh criminal homicide lawyer at McKinney Law to learn more about how we can help defend you in criminal litigation.

The Felony Murder Rule in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is one of a few states that implements the felony-murder rule, which is enshrined in Section 2502(b) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes.  The rule notes that a defendant has committed murder in the second degree when a criminal homicide is committed while the defendant was engaged as a principal or an accomplice in the perpetration of a felony.  The definition of “perpetration of a felony” is further narrowed to the commission, attempt to commit, or flight after committing specific offenses that include the following:

  • Robbery
  • Rape
  • Deviate sexual intercourse by force or threat of force
  • Arson
  • Burglary
  • Kidnapping

The felony-murder rule has long been subject to criticism, as – in some cases – the accomplice may be punished with a more severe sentence of imprisonment than the individual who actually perpetrated the felony.

If you’ve been charged with an offense under the felony-murder rule, you can avoid liability by asserting that you were not actually a principal or accomplice.  In other words, if you did not knowingly assist or engage with the individual(s) perpetrating the felony, you cannot be held liable.  For example, if you are driving some friends around, and one of your friends unexpectedly and suddenly pulls out a gun and shoots a pedestrian, you could argue that you are not liable as you did not act as a principal or accomplice to the crime.

Self-Defense is a Liability Shield

Self-defense and defense of others is a complete defense to several criminal homicide offenses (and other violent crimes) in Pennsylvania.  It’s important to note, however, that you are only entitled to use reasonable force.  Force that is unreasonable – in other words, force that is disproportionate given the circumstances – will not shield you from criminal liability.

For example, if someone is holding a gun to your head and screaming that they’re going to shoot you, the circumstances might justify the use of deadly force to subdue the violent threat.  You would likely be able to avoid a conviction for criminal homicide (i.e., murder) by arguing self-defense.

Evidence May Be Challenged on the Basis of Relevance or Prejudice

In criminal homicide litigation, the prosecution may attempt to introduce evidence that could be characterized as irrelevant or even unfairly prejudicial to your case.  By establishing that the evidence at issue is inadmissible, you can prevent the introduction of unfavorable information that could undermine your arguments and otherwise put you at a disadvantage over the course of criminal litigation.

In Pennsylvania, evidence is inadmissible if it is irrelevant to a material fact of the case.  If the evidence makes the existence of a material fact more or less probable, it will be deemed relevant.  For example, the prosecution may attempt to indirectly introduce evidence of your repeated arguments with neighbors to establish that you are a difficult person (and therefore make you less sympathetic to the jury).  That evidence will likely be deemed irrelevant if you are being prosecuted for involuntary manslaughter.

If the evidence is “relevant,” you may still be able to challenge its introduction by asserting that it is confusing, misleading or otherwise unfairly prejudicial to your case and that those aspects outweigh the probative value of the evidence.

Speak to an Experienced Pittsburgh Criminal Homicide Lawyer at McKinney Law

If you’ve been charged with a criminal homicide offense, you could be exposed to severe and life-changing penalties.  Call (412) 520-3301 or submit a case evaluation form through our website to arrange for a free and confidential consultation with an experienced Pittsburgh criminal homicide lawyer at McKinney Law.