First Degree vs. Second Degree Murder in South Carolina

Many U.S. states classify the severity of murder charges into first and second degree, with different potential sentences. In South Carolina, there is no such classification. Since our state also applies the death penalty, it is crucial to hire a skilled Greenville murder defense lawyer who can put together the best case.

Let us discuss the legal aspects of murder charges and the elements that represent aggravating and mitigating circumstances.

How Is Murder Defined by South Carolina Law?

South Carolina Code of Laws 16-3-10 defines murder as “the killing of any person with malice aforethought, either expressed or implied.” The key terms separating the murder charge from other homicide crimes are “malice aforethought.”

It is essential to understand the legislator’s meaning, because the prosecutor must prove the existence of malice aforethought beyond any reasonable doubt. In Black’s legal dictionary, it is defined as having planned malice.

The killing could not have taken place in a moment of altered mental state or emotion. It could not result from an unprovoked altercation. Rather, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant acted in one of the following ways:

  • Intended to kill the victim
  • Intended to inflict grievous bodily injury
  • Demonstrated extreme recklessness and indifference towards human life
  • Intended to commit a felony

Defining Express Malice vs. Implied Malice

Legislators in South Carolina do not allow any leniency in interpreting the facts of a murder case from the point of view of the type of malice with which the defendant acted. The definition of the criminal offense includes both aspects.

Express malice indicates a clear intent to kill a specific person, for specific reasons. On the other hand, implied malice refers to the situation where no specific provocation exists, yet the perpetrator still takes the victim’s life.

there are no degrees to murder charges in South Carolina

Statutory Aggravating Factors in Murder Cases

The potential penalties for a murder charge can be more severe if the prosecution can prove the existence of a series of statutory aggravating circumstances. The term statutory means that there is no way of excluding these factors from the determination of the sentence.

Some of these factors include:

  • The perpetrator took the victim’s life while committing rape, burglary, kidnapping or people trafficking
  • The perpetrator committed the murder for themselves or for another with the purpose of obtaining money
  • The perpetrator put other people at risk in a public place by committing the murder with a weapon
  • The victim is a child of 11 years old or younger
  • The perpetrator has a prior murder conviction on record

Statutory Mitigating Circumstances

An experienced Greenville murder defense lawyer will analyze the case in great detail to find any potential mitigating factors. Just like the aggravating circumstances, these factors cannot be ignored by the judge in determining the sentence.

Some valid mitigating factors in South Carolina are:

  • The defendant is under 18 years old
  • The defendant has no prior history of violent crimes
  • The defendant was under the influence of mental or emotional disturbance
  • The defendant was acting under duress or coercion by another person

These circumstances may lead to a more lenient sentence – most importantly avoiding the capital punishment.

Penalties for Murder in South Carolina

When it comes to murder convictions, judges do not have the option to show significant leniency. The minimum sentence for a defendant found guilty of murder is 30 years in prison.

In cases involving aggravating circumstances, the judge may impose a sentence of life in prison without parole or the death penalty.

Schedule a Consultation with an Experienced Greenville Murder Defense Lawyer!

Being convicted of murder will result in spending a significant part of your life behind bars. There is no classification of first degree or second degree, so your best option is hiring a skilled Greenville murder defense lawyer who may be able to negotiate a lesser charge.

The rest of your life depends on the outcome of your case, so contact us today to schedule a free case evaluation: 864-777-4615!

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