RCW 9A.32.010 defines homicide as “the killing of a human being by the act, procurement, or omission of another, death occurring at any time,” and is either (1) murder, (2) homicide by abuse, (3) manslaughter, (4) excusable homicide, or (5) justifiable homicide.

The classifications of killing a person vary so greatly that the penalties range from death to no penalty at all.

First or second-degree murder?

The gravest homicide offense is murder, which has three forms and which involves either an act on the part of the offender designed to kill or an act that reflects an “indifference to human life.” If either act results in the death of a person, the offense of murder shall apply. If the killing of a person is committed during the course of or flight from the commission of a felony, this also constitutes murder.

Two factors delineate the first and second degrees of murder. One difference arises solely out of the time between the decision to act and manifestation of that decision. Simply put, if the murderer plans the killing, this is the first-degree offense whereas if the offender acts on immediate or momentary impulse, the second-degree offense applies.

The level of a felony during which the killing is committed, if any, constitutes the second factor in differentiating the two degrees of murder. For the first degree, certain violent felonies are specified. When any felony other than the ones specified in the statute for murder in the first degree encompass the act of killing, the second degree fits.

It is noteworthy that a person need not commit the act that results in the death of a human being to be so charged. If the felony during which the killing takes place, if any, is committed by more than one actor, each member of the criminal team shall face charges of murder. In such a situation, any criminal team member attempting to defend such a charge will bear the burden of proof, by a preponderance of the evidence, to demonstrate that he was not armed with a deadly weapon and had no reason to believe that the slaying accomplice was so armed and had no reason to believe that the slaying accomplice had the intention to kill.

Both degrees of murder carry the sentence of life in jail without chance of parole or other forms of release.

Aggravated Murder in the first degree

Aggravated murder in the first degree calls for capital punishment. This charge applies when the offender knew the victim was a police officer, corrections officer or firefighter acting in the course of official duties; when the offender is an escapee from prison or a jailed felon; the actors were part of a murder for hire scheme; the killing was committed for the motive of advancement within an organization; and certain other circumstances specified in the statute.

When a person is engaged in no illegal activity and is attacked with unlawful deadly force by another, the victim of the attack is justified in defending himself (or another such victim) by responding with deadly force. If this use of force results in the death of the unlawful attacker, this death shall be adjudicated a justifiable homicide, which is not a criminal act and therefore carries no penalty.

Get Experienced Legal Representation

Concepts like intention, indifference, and reason to believe exist in the mind of an actor, and can be misinterpreted by third parties such as police and prosecuting attorneys. The criminal courts have prosecutors working hard to achieve convictions, and defendants need likewise dedicated attorneys to preserve their rights and bring relevant evidence to light. If you or a loved one has been charged with any type of homicide, you need experienced legal help. Contact the criminal defense attorneys at The Nahajski Firm, in Seattle, at (206) 621-0500 for a free and confidential initial consultation.