The Differences Between Murder and Homicide Charges

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murder or homicide

As with certain other provisions of Wisconsin’s criminal code, the ways in which Wisconsin law defines homicide charges are somewhat unique. Specifically, technically speaking, there is no crime of “murder” in Wisconsin (aside from felony murder, which is discussed below). Instead, the offense commonly referred to as murder in other states is classified as “intentional homicide” in Wisconsin.

As a result, while most discussions on this topic focus on the distinctions between murder and other forms of homicide, in Wisconsin the distinction is between intentional and unintentional homicide. If you are facing homicide charges in Wisconsin, this distinction is critical.

Intentional vs. Unintentional Homicide in Wisconsin

First-Degree and Second-Degree Intentional Homicide

Under Section 940.01 of the Wisconsin Statutes, first-degree intentional homicide is defined as, “caus[ing] the death of another human being [or an unborn child] with intent to kill that person or another.” First-degree intentional homicide is a Class A felony, which carries the potential for life imprisonment.

Second-degree intentional homicide is defined similarly; in order to mitigate a first-degree offense to a second-degree offense the defendant must present one of four affirmative partial defenses:

  • Adequate provocation – Death was caused where, “something which the defendant reasonably believes the intended victim has done which causes the defendant to lack self-control completely at the time of causing death,” and which is “sufficient to cause complete lack of self-control in an ordinarily constituted person.”
  • Unnecessary defensive force – “Death was caused because the actor believed he or she or another was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that the force used was necessary to defend the endangered person, if either belief was unreasonable.”
  • Prevention of a felony – “Death was caused because the actor believed that the force used was necessary in the exercise of the privilege to prevent or terminate the commission of a felony, if that belief was unreasonable.”
  • Coercion or necessity – Death was caused under circumstances in which the defendant, “believe[d] that his or her act [was] the only means of preventing [imminent public disaster,] imminent death or great bodily harm to the actor or another.”

Second-degree intentional homicide is a Class B felony, carrying a prison sentence of up to 60 years.

Unintentional Homicide

Wisconsin law establishes a few different crimes that can broadly be classified as unintentional homicide. These offenses include (but are not limited to):

  • Homicide by intoxicated use of vehicle or firearm – Under Section 940.09 of the Wisconsin Statutes, it is generally a Class D felony to, “Cause[] the death of another by the operation or handling of a vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicant.” It is also considered unintentional homicide to cause the death of another under certain other circumstances involving intoxication or prohibited alcohol concentration. Class D felonies are punishable by up to 25 years’ imprisonment and a $100,000 fine.
  • Reckless homicide Sections 940.02 and 940.06 establish the crimes of first-degree and second-degree reckless homicide. First-degree reckless homicide can be charged as either a Class B or Class C felony. Second-degree reckless homicide is a Class D felony.  

Felony Murder

The offense of felony murder can be charged if the defendant, “cause[d] the death of another human being while committing or attempting to commit,” certain felony offenses. Case law has established that it is enough to be guilty of felony murder if the defendant’s conduct was a “substantial factor” in the victim’s death. You will note that neither intent nor recklessness is required. If convicted of felony murder, a defendant can be imprisoned for 15 years on top of the maximum prison sentence for the underlying felony offense.

Disclaimer: This Article Is Not Legal Advice.

Never rely on an article for legal advice as the law frequently changes, information may not be accurate, there may be exceptions to a rule, and reliance may be detrimental. Always consult one of our experienced attorneys for competent, current, and accurate legal advice.

Discuss Your Homicide Case with a Criminal Defense Attorney in Wausau, WI

If you are facing homicide charges in North Central Wisconsin, the criminal defense attorneys at Crooks, Low & Connell, S.C. are here to help. To discuss your case in confidence, call (715) 842-2291 or inquire online today.