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Homicide - What to Do When You or a Loved one is Facing Murder or Manslaughter Charges - Part 1

Have you or someone you care about been charged with murder, manslaughter, or another homicide-related offense? If so, you're in the right place.

North Carolina Attorney Bill Powers has been representing clients charged with murder and other homicide-related offenses his entire career. In this episode, Attorney Powers answers the questions that matter to you when you when you or a loved one is facing a murder or homicide offense.

Modified Transcript of “Homicide - What to Do When You or a Loved One Is Facing Murder or Manslaughter Charges - Part 1” for the Hearing Impaired

Speaker 1: You're listening to Law Talk With Bill Powers, your resource for answers to your most pressing legal questions. Attorney Bill Powers sits down with some of today's leading legal minds to discuss everything from legal issues in legislation, to practice tips and policy. Now here's your host, an MBTA board certified criminal law specialist, former president of The North Carolina Advocates for Justice, and renowned trial lawyer Bill Powers.

Robert Ingalls: Welcome to another episode of Law Talk with attorney Bill Powers. I am Robert Ingalls and I will be your guest host for this episode. Now, sometimes on NC Law Talk we take on some rather light issues, and we have some fun, but in this episode we're going to be dealing with some rather serious issues, and I just kinda wanted to point that out up front. How are you doing today Bill?

Bill Powers: I'm doing well.

Robert Ingalls: Alright. Today we are going to be talking about homicide and the different levels of homicide in North Carolina, what those charges look like, what the ultimate penalties look like, and what some possible defenses are. What are the different homicide charges in North Carolina?

Bill Powers: Well, North Carolina is one of the original colonies, and so we still have kind of a cross application between common law offenses, which you would, under the law of the land you would know it was unlawful killing of another, murder in this sense. Then there are statutory prohibitions, or things that are written in the North Carolina General Assembly statutes that set forth what they are. Most times people are referring to a homicide, a fatality, a death of somebody using terms like murder, manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, felony death, but there are technical and important differences between each of those, and to give you an example, you hear of murder.

Well, there's first degree murder, there's second degree murder. What's the difference between that and a felonious murder, or death by a vehicle, or something of that nature? There are lots of different levels. Normally, from a hierarchical type of standpoint you've got first degree murder, you've got second degree murder in North Carolina State Court, you have voluntary manslaughter which in some instances is considered a lesser included offenses, in some instances it is not. You've got involuntary manslaughter. You've got certain felony deaths, we commonly see in felony death by a vehicle in court.

Robert Ingalls: What constitutes first degree murder.

Bill Powers: Well, there are specific definitions, but normally the big picture ones, we're looking at are what we'd refer to as premeditation, or deliberation, a higher level of [inaudible 00:02:58], that's the term for the mindset, the evil, meaning laying in wait, more of what you would expect to see in a, maybe a CSI type of episode. But for example, second degree murder may be an instance where there's an allegation of impaired driving, or some particularly dangerous type of driving, or circumstances of driving where your mindset is elevated to the level that it's murder.

It's not first degree murder. Second degree murder is a lower level murder that's still murder. And first degree murder in North Carolina, we are still a capital state, meaning that we have the death penalty, a capital punishment, and the ultimate form of punishment. And you see that as an option with, normally a first degree murder type of charge. Now, there are factors that have to be considered, and a jury has to actually make that determination.

And speaking of big picture, and there are a lot of different permutations and combinations. The statutes are written in such a way to allow different types of activity to fall within different categories, and it's up to the prosecutor, and to some extent jurors to decide what they believe happened, and what is factually and to some extent legally appropriate.

Robert Ingalls: Now, I want to understand the distinction a little bit between first degree and second degree, because one of the ones I think that I saw a lot on movies growing up would be the impassioned killer, where let's say the wife comes home and finds her husband with someone else, and she will grab her gun and kill him in that moment. Then, movies are a terrible way to learn about the law, I think, because they probably don't quite get it right sometimes, but what is that distinction, because sometimes that person, I'll see in the news, will be charged with first degree murder, and then sometimes it'll be second degree murder. What is that distinction there?

Bill Powers: Well, what you described would normally be associated with a voluntary, not involuntary, but voluntary manslaughter, where we don't use the word murder but it's the same thing. You have someone, due to a deliberative, non-accidental act, someone's died. The excuse for it, legal excuse, or defense I guess is a better way of putting it, would be do to the nature and circumstances, the heat of passion, the, "I came home. I saw my spouse with someone else and I was so inflamed with anger and passion that yes, I killed that person, but I didn't plan to do it. I didn't plan to come home."

That's kind of the escape valve, if you will, is the intentionality, where in first degree murder you may have laying in wait waiting, waiting for somebody, or planning something. And second degree murder may be such a reckless disregard for the rights and safety of others that it rises to the level of almost intentionality. I use an example of second degree murder where say I have a weapon and I shoot it into a crowd of people, and you know, it's not a defense to say, "Well, I didn't mean to kill that particular person." The fact of the matter is you meant to point the gun. You meant to pull the trigger, and you had the logical and expected result, these are in terms we use in the court with juries, the logical and expected result of, or a consequence of your action.

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