Oklahoma Murder Laws: Degrees and Punishments

Oklahoma's murder laws are defined in Oklahoma Statute §701.7. Oklahoma law categorizes murder as either first degree murder or second degree murder. Charges of first degree murder involve specific elements such as premeditation, murder during the commission of a felony, or special circumstances such as killing a police officer. A conviction on first degree murder charges requires that the prosecution prove the defendant committed an unlawful act, had intent, the act was premeditated, or the act was committed during a felony. Second degree murder does not involve malice aforethought, but involves a reckless disregard for human life. A conviction on charges of second degree murder requires that the prosecution prove that the defendant committed an unlawful act, had intent The punishment for murder in Oklahoma ranges from the death penalty to life in prison.

Murder is classified as a homicide in Oklahoma, similar to manslaughter. Individuals facing first or second degree murder charges are advised to retain the services of a criminal defense attorney to ensure they receive a fair trial. A criminal defense attorney examines the circumstances of the crime and helps defendants through a variety of legal defense strategies or by negotiating a plea bargain.

What Are Oklahoma's Murder Laws?

Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought, according to Oklahoma law. The criminal laws of Oklahoma categorize murder into different degrees based on the circumstances and intent of the killing. These categories include first degree murder and second degree murder. The specific charges levied against a defendant by the prosecution are based on the circumstances of the killing, the killer's intent, and available evidence. First degree murder charges include premeditated murder, felony murder, child abuse murder, and the killing of a law enforcement offices. The punishments for first degree murder are the most severe. A conviction of first degree murder requires the prosecution to prove intent, premeditation, or committing the killing during the commission of a felony. Second degree murder charges are levied against a defendant when the killing does not meet the legal criteria of first-degree murder. The punishments for second degree murder are less severe, but include imprisonment.

What is First Degree Murder?

Murder in the first degree includes premeditated murder, felony murder, child abuse murder, and the killing of a law enforcement officer or correctional officer while they are on duty.

Below are the circumstances under which someone can be charged with murder in the first degree in the state of Oklahoma.

  • Takes the life of a human being.
  • The death of a child results from the willful or malicious injuring, torturing, maiming or using of unreasonable force by said person or who shall willfully cause, procure or permit any of said acts to be done upon the child. Willfully tortured or used unreasonable force upon the child or maliciously injured or maimed the child.
  • Unlawfully and with malice aforethought solicits another person or persons to cause the death of a human being in furtherance of illegally manufacturing, distributing or dispensing controlled dangerous substances, as defined in the Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Act, unlawfully possessing with intent to distribute or dispense controlled dangerous substances, or trafficking in illegal drugs.
  • Intentionally causes the death of a law enforcement officer or correctional officer while the officer is in the performance of official duties.

What is Murder with Malice Aforethought?

Murder with malice aforethought (premeditated murder) is the intentional and unlawful killing of another person in which the perpetrator has a premeditated intent to cause death or serious harm. Malice is the deliberate intent to unlawfully take the life of a human being, and is manifested by external circumstances which are capable of proof.

What is Felony Murder?

Felony murder is a first degree murder charge, regardless of malice or intent, when the death of another human being occurs during, or as a result of, specific criminal activity. The criminal activities listed below can all result in felony murder charges.

  • Attempting to kill another person besides the person who is ultimately killed;
  • Shooting or discharging a firearm with the intent to kill another;
  • Intentionally discharging a deadly weapon into a home or other building;
  • Forcible rape;
  • Robbery with a dangerous weapon;
  • Kidnapping;
  • Escape from lawful custody;
  • Eluding an officer;
  • First degree burglary or arson;
  • Distribution of a controlled dangerous substance;
  • Trafficking in illegal drugs; or
  • Manufacturing a controlled dangerous substance.

To further confuse the issue, any person involved in the specific criminal activity can be charged with first degree murder even if they are not the one that “pulled the trigger” or otherwise directly caused the death, so long as the death occurred as a result of one of the crimes listed above.

Felony murder carries the same penalty as a first degree murder charge.

What is Child Abuse Murder?

Child abuse murder is the death of a child that results from willful or malicious injuring, torturing, maiming, or using unreasonable force upon a child. Child abuse murder is considered First (1st) degree murder in Oklahoma. It is defined by Title §21-701.7 of the Oklahoma statutes. These charges are most often filed in shaken baby cases.

What Is the Punishment for First Degree Murder in Oklahoma?

When a person who is convicted at trial or pleads guilty or no contest to murder in the first degree, that person will become a convicted felon. Punishment can result in the death penalty if the case is certified as a capital offense due to specific aggravating factors listed under the law. In all other instances, punishment for first degree murder is either imprisonment for life without the possibility of parole or incarceration for life with the possibility of parole.

Even though a person who is convicted of or pleads guilty or nolo contendere to murder in the first degree shall not be entitled to or afforded the benefit of deferment of the sentence, there is still the possibility that a portion of the life sentence could be suspended. In that event, the convict would only have to serve a part of the life sentence before being released on probation. Hiring a skilled attorney to fight such charges is essential to ensuring fair sentencing.

What is the Minimum Sentence for First Degree Murder?

The minimum sentence for a conviction on charges of first degree murder is life imprisonment in the state of Oklahoma. Life imprisonment is classified as 45 years. The individual will be eligible for parole after serving 85% of the sentence.

What is Second Degree Murder?

Second degree murder means the act of one person killing another person was not committed with premeditation or “malice aforethought”. Situations that commonly lead to second degree charges are those in which someone does not plan or set out to intentionally kill another human.

The situations listed below are examples of second degree murder.

  • When perpetrated by an act imminently dangerous to another person and evincing a depraved mind, regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual; or
  • When perpetrated by a person engaged in the commission of any felony other than the unlawful acts set out in Section 1, subsection B, of this act.

What is the Punishment for Second Degree Murder in Oklahoma?

A person who is convicted of, or pleads guilty or nolo contendere to, murder in the second degree will be found guilty of a felony and face felony consequences. Anyone convicted will also face punishment by imprisonment for not less than ten (10) years nor more than life.  Again a qualified lawyer can help ensure you receive a fair sentence.

What is the Minimum Sentence for Second Degree Murder?

The minimum sentence for a conviction on charges of second degree murder is ten (10) years imprisonment in the custody of the Department of Corrections in the state of Oklahoma.

What Is the Difference Between First and Second Degree Murder?

The difference between first degree murder and second degree murder in the state of Oklahoma lies in the intent of the perpetrator and circumstances of the killing. First degree murder requires premeditation and a specific intent to kill, including killings that occur during the commission of certain felonies under Oklahoma's felony murder rule, such as arson, burglary, or rape, or the intentional killing of a law enforcement officer. Second degree murder does not require premeditation. It. involves killings that result from actions that are imminently dangerous and demonstrate a depraved disregard for human life but without a specific intent to kill, or killings that occur during the commission of a felony not covered by the first degree murder felony murder rule.

What is the Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter?

The difference between murder and manslaughter is the presence of malice aforethought (premeditation) and the specific circumstances surrounding the act. Murder charges require the deliberate intention to unlawfully kill another person, either with premeditation (first degree murder), or with a reckless disregard for human life (second degree murder). Manslaughter, on the other hand involves one person killing another without malice aforethought, such as in the heat of passion, or through reckless behavior.

What is the Difference Between Murder and Homicide?

Murder is the intentional and premeditated act of one person taking the life of another. Homicide is a broad term that refers to any act of one person causing the death of another person. Homicides are categorized as lawful and unlawful (criminal homicide). Lawful homicide includes justifiable or excusable acts, such as taking someone's life in self-defense. Unlawful homicide includes criminal acts such as murder or manslaughter that demonstrate criminal intent or negligence.

What Type of Lawyer Deals with Murderers?

Criminal defense attorneys specialize in defending individuals charged with crimes such as first-degree murder or second-degree murder. A murder defense attorney gathers and analyzes evidence, builds a defense strategy, negotiates plea bargains, and represents their clients in court. Defense attorneys can be either court-appointed or hired directly by the defendant. Court-appointed attorneys generally have experience in handling a variety of criminal cases including violent crimes such as murder. A private defense attorney may have more experience in handling murder cases and negotiating plea bargains on behalf of their clients.

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