State of mind is essentially a suspect’s guilty or criminal mind. The defendant’s state of mind in a criminal homicide trial is at issue because it will determine whether they had the intent to kill the victim. The prosecution must prove that an overt act (the killing) coincided with the requisite state of mind.
The difference between various degrees of murder and manslaughter is the suspect’s state of mind. Although it sounds trivial, state of mind is the major determinant of a conviction. The absence of a criminal state of mind can result in a reduced prison sentence or possibly no punishment at all.
What Is Not Considered a Criminal State of Mind?
What Are the Different States of Mind?
Typically, there are 4 types of homicide, with each carrying its own state of mind. The 5 types of homicides, and the corresponding state of mind required for each, are as follows (from most severe to least severe):
- First-degree murder – The intentional killing of a specific person. It consists of the premeditation to commit the killing and to carry out the act. Included in this category is felony murder, which is a murder that occurs (intentional or not) during the commission of an inherently dangerous felony.
- Second-degree murder (depraved heart murder) – Same as first-degree murder, but without premeditation. In other words, the suspect consciously desired to kill the victim in that moment. In the alternative, the suspect knew that, due to his conduct, the victim would be killed.
- Voluntary manslaughter – Second-degree murder, but the suspect was provoked. Due to the provocation, the suspect did not have time to cool off and killed the victim as a result.
- Involuntary manslaughter – The killing was unintentional and either caused by criminal negligence or during the commission of an unlawful act.
Consulting a Lawyer
If you are being charged with murder or manslaughter, please consult a criminal defense attorney immediately to ensure you receive the best defense possible. They will explain the allegations, advise you on your options and help you get the charges removed or, at least, reduced to a lesser crime.
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