A Kitsap County man has been charged with first-degree murder in a case that shines light on the differences between first- and second-degree murder.
Love Triangle Shooting Leaves One Dead
The situation involves one woman and two men in the Suquamish area across the Sound from Seattle. According to the story on KOMO News, the shooting happened soon after the woman, her boyfriend, and her ex-boyfriend had eaten together at a local restaurant. The boyfriend discovered that the woman had continued to communicate with her ex-boyfriend, leading the woman to call her ex-boyfriend to her house so they could resolve the issue. When the ex-boyfriend drove up, though, the current boyfriend shot and killed him.
When the boyfriend was charged with first-degree murder, he pleaded not-guilty.
Homicide, Murder, and Manslaughter
There are a lot of ways for people to kill each other, and the law in Washington recognizes that some are worse than others. Therefore, it has categorized four different types of homicides.
- Murder in the first degree under RCW 9A.32.030
- Murder in the second degree under RCW 9A.32.050
- Manslaughter in the first degree under RCW 9A.32.060
- Manslaughter in the second degree under RCW 9A.32.070
Murder and manslaughter are both types of homicide – a homicide being the overarching category of the killing of another human being. However, manslaughters are deemed less culpable than murders because they do not involve the intent to kill, while second-degree crimes are less culpable than first-degree crimes because they were either the result of negligence or extreme passion.
Murders: Premeditated Versus “Heat of Passion”
The interesting part about this “love triangle shooting” is that the prosecutor chose to press first-degree murder charges, rather than second-degree murder charges.
First-degree murders involve a “premeditated intent” to kill someone else and are the most difficult types of homicide for a prosecutor to prove. Prosecutors have to show that the defendant planned out the killing and then followed through on it, making it the most culpable type of homicide because the defendant had time to abort the attempt, but did not.
Meanwhile, second-degree murders in Washington are the so-called “heat of passion” murders. While these still involve an intent to kill someone else, there is no premeditation. Instead, second-degree murders happen suddenly, in the heat of the moment, and are often the result of an intense emotional outburst.
The fact that the prosecutor chose first-degree murder charges indicate that they think there is evidence that the boyfriend planned to kill the ex-boyfriend while they were waiting for his arrival. Now the defense attorney has an opportunity to raise a reasonable doubt as to whether there was enough premeditation to warrant a conviction on first degree murder charges. If the defense lawyer manages to do this, it can lead to an acquittal.