Not All Unlawful Killings are Murder
Oklahoma classifies murder charges by degree, with only two classifications of the crime: first-degree and second-degree murder. First-degree murder as the more serious of the two.
Murder charges are among several legal remedies prosecutors may consider when a person dies at the hands of another in Oklahoma.
Generally, murder charges imply intent to cause death, although depraved mind murder or accidental death that results from a felonious act can be charged as murder without a showing that there was a specific intent to kill. Unlawful killings could otherwise be charged as either first or second-degree manslaughter. Oklahoma also recognizes some homicides to be excusable homicide or justifiable homicide.
Here is what you need to know about the murder laws in Oklahoma.
What is Murder in the First Degree in Oklahoma?
A person can be charged with first-degree murder in Oklahoma when that person unlawfully takes the life of another with “malice aforethought.” Okla. Stat. tit. 21 § 701.7
The criminal intent here is to deliberately take a life and the motive is usually proven by external facts and circumstances such as conduct, demeanor, a defendant’s words, or even from the killing itself. These killings are purposeful and planned.
Regardless of malice, a person also commits first-degree murder when the killing occurs in the following circumstances:
- the commission or attempted commission of the murder of another person;
- the discharge of a firearm or other deadly weapon into a building or with intent to kill;
- from forcible rape;
- robbery with a dangerous weapon;
- escape from lawful custody by law enforcement official;
- eluding an officer;
- first-degree arson;
- unlawfully distributing or manufacturing controlled dangerous substances; or
- trafficking in illegal drugs or other controlled dangerous substances.
This is what as referred to as the Felony Murder Rule. The death is not premeditated, but occurs during the commission of a felony. It also covers deaths that were committed by the felon’s intended victims, police officers, and innocent bystanders. OUJI-CR 4-64
Finally, it is first-degree murder if:
- a child dies as a result of being willfully tortured or if a person uses unreasonable force on the child;
- a death occurs as a result of malice aforethought in the unlawful manufacturing, distribution, or dispensing of controlled dangerous substances; or
- the intentional death of a law enforcement officer or correctional employee of any kind while in the performance of his or her duties.
Penalty For Murder in the First Degree
Murder in the first degree is a capital offense in Oklahoma. It is punishable by death or life in prison without parole and is subject to the 85% Rule. Oklahoma law mandates that convicted felons of violent crimes serve at least 85% of their sentences before becoming eligible for parole. Okla. Stat. tit. 21 § 701.9
Once convicted of the crime, the law requires a separate sentencing hearing. Okla. Stat. tit. 21 § 701.10
Defenses to First Degree Murder
There are a number of defenses that may be available. Some of the most common involve self-defense and justifiable or excusable homicide. Self-defense or defense of another is justifiable homicide.
Justifiable homicide occurs when a person reasonably believes that deadly force is necessary to protect either themselves or another from imminent death or harm.
Excusable homicide is somewhat like justifiable homicide. In excusable homicide, the death occurs in the discharge of duty and is necessary.
Accidental death is another defense. This defense is available when the death was truly accidental.
What is Second-Degree Murder in Oklahoma?
In Oklahoma, a homicide is deemed to be murder in the second degree when the killing is done by an act that is imminently dangerous to another person and in which the killer shows a “depraved mind” in extreme disregard for human life, or when the killing occurs during the commission of a felony. Okla. Stat. tit. 21 § 701.8
“Depraved mind” can be shown when a person engages in imminently dangerous conduct with a reckless disregard for, and in total indifference to, the life and safety of another person. OUJI-CR 4-91
A homicide resulting from an act imminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, regardless of human life, is not murder because there was no actual intent to injure others. Okla. Stat. tit. 21 § 705
Imminently dangerous conduct is conduct which a reasonable person would consider to be immediate and have a very high degree of risk of death to another person. OUJI-CR 4-91
For example, shooting a gun into a crowd of people is an immediate threat and carries a high degree of likelihood that another person will be injured or killed. There is no premeditation in the act, just a reckless disregard for the life and safety of others.
Absence of Premeditation
First-degree murder requires an intent to murder or what is often called “malice aforethought.” This is premeditation.
Second-degree murder requires that the death occurs without premeditation.
Penalty for Murder II
The statutory penalty for second-degree murder in Oklahoma is from 10 years to life in prison. Okla. Stat. tit. 21 § 701.9
This too is subject to the 85% rule.
Defenses To Second-Degree Murder
Innocence is always a defense, as is self-defense. If the killing occurs in self-defense, the killing is justified.
However, voluntary intoxication or anger is never a defense to any homicide.
Facts are critical in a self-defense claim.
Murder charges carry stiff penalties in Oklahoma. If you are facing charges for second-degree murder, don’t go it alone. Get the help you need today.
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