The word homicide itself simply means the taking of one person’s life by another. Not every act of homicide is criminal, though. Justifiable homicide is when someone takes another’s life in self-defense. Excusable homicide is when a person kills someone as a lawful part of his or her duty: a police officer protecting the public safety, or a soldier killing an enemy soldier in combat.

Justifiable homicide and excusable homicide are rare compared to acts of criminal homicide, however. In most cases, homicide will be classified as either manslaughter or murder, and each of these is further classified by degree of severity.

Murder, perhaps the most serious of all criminal charges, may be classified as either first degree murder or second degree murder, and the penalties include life in prison without parole or, in some cases, death.

If you are accused of murder, finding competent legal counsel is imperative. Murder defense strategies vary depending on the nature of the charge, but your attorney should work aggressively to find the best defense solution for you. Call Coventon Criminal Defense to learn more.

Murder Charges in Oklahoma

Oklahoma law classifies murder as either murder in the first degree or murder in the second degree, depending on the perceived seriousness of the offense. Because the state holds that life is sacred (unless it is exacting the death penalty), acts of murder are considered the most serious criminal acts, and they are punished severely. The potential penalties a murder defendant faces depend upon whether he or she is charged with first degree murder or second degree murder.

First Degree Murder

The primary definition of first degree murder (21 O.S. § 701.7) under Oklahoma law is that it is an act of homicide that is intentional and premeditated. Specifically, state law says first degree murder occurs when a person “unlawfully and with malice aforethought causes the death of another human being.” Malice is further defined as “deliberate intention.”

In other words, first degree murder occurs when the perpetrator meant to kill someone else. Please not that premeditation, or “malice aforethought,” does not mean that the defendant planned the killing for days or weeks in advance. The intent could have occurred immediately prior to the act, and it would still likely be considered first degree murder.

There are other acts of homicide that are considered to be first degree murder under Oklahoma law even without malice aforethought. State law also deems an act to be first degree murder when a death occurs in one of the following situations, even in the absence of premeditation or intent:

  • During the murder or attempted murder of a person other than the victim
  • In an act of shooting with intent to kill or the intentional discharge a firearm into a building
  • During armed robbery or robbery with a dangerous weapon
  • In the commission of a forcible rape
  • In an act of kidnapping
  • While escaping lawful custody  or eluding an officer
  • In the commission of first degree burglary
  • In an act of first degree arson
  • In the commission of drug distribution or synthetic drug distribution
  • In the manufacture of a controlled substance
  • While trafficking in illegal drugs
  • As a result of child abuse
  • Soliciting a death in furtherance of drug distribution, manufacture, or trafficking
  • Intentionally causing the death of a law officer or corrections employee in the performance of his or her duties

First degree murder is punishable by life in prison or life without parole. Defendants sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole must serve at least 85 percent of the life sentence –more than 38 years—before obtaining parole eligibility.

The Death Penalty in Oklahoma

In certain cases, an act of first degree murder is punishable by death. In order to seek the death penalty, prosecutors must demonstrate that the homicide occurred under one or more of the following “aggravating circumstances” stipulated in 21 O.S. § 701.12:

  1. The defendant was previously convicted of a felony involving the use or threat of violence to the person;
  2. The defendant knowingly created a great risk of death to more than one person;
  3. The person committed the murder for remuneration or the promise of remuneration or employed another to commit the murder for remuneration or the promise of remuneration;
  4. The murder was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel;
  5. The murder was committed for the purpose of avoiding or preventing a lawful arrest or prosecution;
  6. The murder was committed by a person while serving a sentence of imprisonment on conviction of a felony;
  7. The existence of a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society; or
  8. The victim of the murder was a peace officer as defined by Section 99 of this title, or correctional employee of an institution under the control of the Department of Corrections, and such person was killed while in performance of official duty.

Although Oklahoma death row inmates have recently protested the state’s lethal injection protocol, the United States Supreme Court has thus far upheld Oklahoma’s execution methods.

Second Degree Murder in Oklahoma

Many acts of homicide lacking premeditation and intent are charged as first degree manslaughter; however, Oklahoma law classifies certain acts as second degree murder, even without intent.

Second degree murder is defined in 21 O.S. § 701.8 as an act of homicide that occurs under one of two sets of circumstances:

  • When a death results by an “act imminently dangerous to another person and evincing a depraved mind,” without regard to human life
  • When a death results in the commission of any felony not specified in Oklahoma’s first degree murder statute (rape, kidnapping, armed robbery, drug distribution and trafficking, etc.)

Commonly, second degree murder charges are filed after a fatal DUI accident wherein the impaired driver had a previous DUI conviction. A second or subsequent DUI is a felony, and so any death resulting from an act of repeat DUI would meet the second definition of second degree murder.

Second degree murder is punishable by 10 years to life in prison.

Coventon Criminal Defense

To learn more about Oklahoma murder charges and applicable defense strategies, or a free consultation regarding your case, call Oklahoma criminal defense lawyer Ryan Coventon at (405) 418-8888 or submit our confidential online case review form.