West Chester

Murder  Defense Lawyer

The last place you expect to find yourself is on trial for another person’s death. At Skinner Law Firm, our West Chester violent crimes lawyers understand that murder accusations are frightening and unexpected. You may have had nothing to do with the other person’s death, or you may have found yourself in an impossible situation. Whatever, the case, you need a highly skilled and aggressive defense attorney working for you.

Whether you are falsely accused or acted in self-defense, we are here to fight for your freedom. Michael J. Skinner is an experienced murder defense lawyer, who represents good people in and around Chester County, PA. As a former prosecutor and passionate criminal defense attorney, he will leave no stone unturned in investigating your case and analyzing possible defense strategies. Do not face murder charges alone or agree to give a statement. Contact Skinner Law Firm at (610) 436-1410 or use the online form to request a free consultation as soon as possible. It is in your best interest to work with a veteran defense attorney.

Pennsylvania Homicide Law

Under 18 PA Cons Stat §2501, if you intentionally, recklessly, or negligently cause the death of another person, a prosecutor may charge you with murder, voluntary manslaughter, or involuntary manslaughter.

The charge the prosecutor pursues depends on the specific facts of your case, such as whether the killing appeared to be premeditated, the result of provocation, during a felony crime, or due to reckless or careless conduct. You should talk with a murder attorney about the level of the charge against you and the possible sentences if convicted.

Types of Murder

In Pennsylvania, murder is the intentional killing of another person or the killing of a person during the commission or flight from a felony.

First-Degree Murder (18 PA Cons Stat §2502(a))

A prosecutor will charge you with murder in the first degree if there is evidence you committed an intentional killing.

The law defines “intentional killing” as killing using poison, by lying in wait, or by any other willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing.

Second-Degree Murder (18 PA Cons Stat §2502(b))

A prosecutor will charge you with murder in the second degree if you were engaged in perpetuating felony, as a principal or accomplice, when the other person’s death occurred.

The law defines “perpetuating a felony” as engaging in, being an accomplice, attempting to commit, fleeing afterward, or attempting to commit robbery, rape by force or threat, arson, burglary, or kidnapping.

Third-Degree Murder (18 PA Cons Stat §2502(c))

A prosecutor will charge you with murder in the third degree for all other types of murder. You will face this murder charge if your alleged conduct does not constitute first- or second-degree murder or voluntary or involuntary homicide.

Homicide Sentences in PA

If a jury convicts you of first -degree murder, you face life imprisonment or death and fines up to $50,000. However, if you are convicted of first-degree murder of an unborn child, you face life imprisonment but not the death penalty.

If a jury convicts you of second-degree murder, you face life imprisonment and a $50,000 fine.

If a jury convicts you of third-degree murder, which is a first-degree felony, you face between 10 and 40 years in prison and fines up to $25,000.

For a third-degree murder conviction, your sentence will depend on the Offense Gravity Score and your Prior Record Score.

The Offense Gravity Score for third-degree murder is a 14. Your Prior Record Score depends on the points acquired from previous convictions. The intersection of these factors on Pennsylvania’s sentencing chart determines your presumptive sentence.

For a third-degree murder conviction, your sentence will depend on the Offense Gravity Score and your Prior Record Score.

The Offense Gravity Score for third-degree murder is a 14. Your Prior Record Score depends on the points acquired from previous convictions. The intersection of these factors on Pennsylvania’s sentencing chart determines your presumptive sentence.

Justifiable Homicide in Pennsylvania

When you are accused of homicide in Pennsylvania, you must confer with a murder lawyer as soon as possible. It may be true that you were responsible for another person’s death. However, that does not make you guilty of murder. At Skinner Law Firm, we understand you may have found yourself in a terrible situation in which your actions were justified.

Under Chapter 5 of Title 18 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, justification may be a defense to homicide and other criminal charges.

Under 18 PA Cons Stat §503, conduct necessary to avoid harm to yourself or others is justifiable if:

  • The harm or evil you avoided by your conduct was greater than that sought to be prevented by the law under which you are charged;
  • The law does not provide exceptions or defenses dealing with your specific situation; and
  • There does not appear to be a legislative intent to exclude justification.

The first element means you were avoiding harm that was greater than the offense you committed. For example, you may have acted to avoid kidnapping or rape.

Second, the laws regarding justification and homicide must not provide for an exception that covers your specific circumstances. In other words, is your specific situation already addressed under the law?

Third, lawmakers must not have intended to exclude justification as a defense in the statute you are accused of violating. With homicide, the voluntary manslaughter statute specifically mentions justification.

Whether or not you can claim the current circumstance is an excusable homicide depends on whether the facts of your case support the three elements of a justification defense. If you had justification, your lawyer might be able to have the charges reduced to manslaughter, dismissed,  or used to exonerate you at trial.

Murder Defense Options

Just because you are accused of first-, second-, or third-degree murder, or a prosecutor obtains an indictment from a grand jury does not mean you will be convicted. By working with a murder defense lawyer, you can uncover the evidence necessary to mount an aggressive and effective defense.

Possible defenses to Pennsylvania murder charges include:

  • Self-Defense or Defense of Others: Your attorney may submit evidence that the alleged victim attacked you or others, and you fought back. Your lawyer will present evidence that your actions were reasonable in light of the circumstances.
  • Duress: A successful duress defense in murder cases requires your lawyer to prove you were coerced into acting as you did. Your lawyer will present evidence that another person’s threats or unlawful force were enough to overcome a reasonable person’s resistance.
  • Involuntary Intoxication: You may have proof that you were drugged or somehow involuntary impaired due to another person’s actions. You were not in control of your conduct in relation to the other person’s death.
  • Justification: Your murder attorney may present evidence that you were justified in causing the other person’s death. Reasonable justification may be a full defense to the charges.
  • Mistaken Identity: You may be entirely innocent of the charges. Your lawyer will fight to prove there has been a mistake, and you are not the perpetrator.
  • Accident: Your attorney may offer up evidence that the other person’s death was an accident and not the result of your intentional or willful conduct.
  • Insufficient Evidence: The prosecutor is required to prove you committed murder beyond a reasonable doubt. Your attorney may argue the prosecutor lacks sufficient evidence to meet this burden of proof.
  • Unlawful Search and Seizure: Your lawyer may argue that certain evidence should be inadmissible because it was obtained through an unconstitutional search and seizure.
  • Insanity: Your lawyer may prove you have a mental defect or disease that prevents you from understanding the nature and quality of your actions or between right and wrong.

A Murder Defense Lawyer in West Chester, PA

When you discover you are being accused of murder in or around Chester County, PA, even if you have not been indicted yet, call Skinner Law Firm. Schedule a free and confidential consultation with experienced murder attorney and former prosecutor Michael J. Skinner. With a background and track record of success in high-profile homicide cases, your best chance of having the charges reduced or dismissed, or winning an acquittal at trial, is by working with a lawyer as soon as possible.

Use the online form or call (610) 436-1410 to schedule your free consultation.

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