With few exceptions, homicide is probably the most serious criminal charge prosecutors can file against an individual. Someone accused of a homicide offense caused the death of another person.
Not only do homicide charges risk severe penalties, but they can also burden someone with a criminal record that may close many doors to them in the future. Depending on the circumstances that led to someone’s untimely passing, there are a number of different charges that a North Carolina prosecutor could bring against someone implicated in their death.
First-degree murder is the most severe homicide charge possible. A prosecutor charging someone with first-degree murder believes that one person intended to cause the death of another and went so far as to plan for that outcome. First-degree murder is a Class a felony brought when prosecutors believe that premeditation led to a murder.
Sometimes, an individual does not plan to harm someone else but still causes their death. A fight that goes too far, for example, might lead to second-degree homicide charges. Second-degree murder involves a lack of premeditation but also a reckless disregard for the safety of others. Second-degree murder is a Class B1 felony offense.
Felony murder is a subset of first-degree murder. The state can charge someone with felony murder when they cause the premeditated death of another person during the commission of another felony offense, such as a robbery. Like first-degree murder, felony murder is a Class A felony.
Unlike murder charges, manslaughter charges reflect a scenario in which someone did not have the intent to deprive someone else of their life. Voluntary manslaughter charges arise after scenarios in which someone becomes emotionally or mentally disturbed and lashes out at another person. A voluntary manslaughter case might involve a crime of passion and could lead to Class D felony charges.
Sometimes, people cause the death of another person without intending harm. Someone who was negligent or reckless could end up accused of involuntary manslaughter. So could someone who causes a death unintentionally during the commission of a non-felony criminal act. Involuntary manslaughter is a Class F felony.
North Carolina prosecutors can charge someone with a class felony if they kill someone with a vehicle. Both reckless driving and drunk driving scenarios may lead to vehicular homicide charges.
Understanding the specific murder charge the state intends to pursue may help people plan a more effective defense strategy when accused of what could be a capital offense.