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Homicide

If you're facing homicide charges, particularly murder , you can expect that the prosecution is going to throw everything at you. Getting a homicide conviction is a big win for the assistant district attorney bringing the case, and they'll be particularly hungry in the courtroom.

You'll want an experienced, aggressive attorney on your side — someone who can go toe-to-toe with the best prosecutors in the DA's office and push back on every assertion they make. Someone who understands strategy in homicide cases.

Philadelphia Homicide Lawyer

The tough defense of Alva & Shuttleworth, LLC are not afraid of complex cases. They'll take on the prosecutors in your murder, manslaughter or other homicide case. Our attorneys treat every case like their clients' life depends on the results — which, in these cases, it might be. We will challenge the prosecution's evidence, seeking the have charges against you reduced or thrown out completely. Call us today at (215) 665-1695 to schedule a consultation.

We represent those accused of homicide in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas, including Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware and Chester Counties, and throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.


Pennsylvania Homicide Information Center


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Homicide Charges in Pennsylvania

Homicide itself is not a crime. Homicide means the killing of one human by another human. Homicide can sometimes be legally justified, such as the use of deadly force to protect yourself or others.

Charges involving homicide include:

Murder (18 Penn. Cons. Stat. § 2502):

Murder means the accused killed the person with the intent of committing an unlawful act with malice. There are three degrees of murder, and the degree for which a person is accused relates to the intent of the person and the actions surrounding that alleged act.

First-degree murder means that the murder was willful, deliberate and premeditated. Premeditation is the fully formed intent to kill and can be formed in seconds. This is often called "malice aforethought."

A person can also be charged with first-degree murder for being part of a conspiracy to commit murder or soliciting another to commit murder.

Second-degree murder is a homicide committed in during the perpetuation of a felony. For instance, if you are accused of robbing a bank at gunpoint and shooting and killing someone in the process, you may be accused of second-degree murder. It does not matter if the accused went into the robbery not intending to kill anyone — if he or she intended to commit the robbery, malice is inferred and you can be charged with second degree.

"In perpetuation" includes the act of escape. If, for example, the accused is speeding away from a robbery to escape capture and hits and kills a pedestrian, that person could be accused of second degree murder.

Third degree murder covers unintentional killings not under first and second-degree murder with malice.

Voluntary Manslaughter (18 Penn. Cons. Stat. § 2503):

Voluntary manslaughter can be of two types. The first is where the accused killed somebody during a brief period of "sudden and intense passion" provoked by either the victim or the person the accused intended to kill without sufficient time to cool.

It is important that there must exist legal passion (not mere words).

Such between the provocation and the killing makes elevating the charges to murder more likely. For instance, if the victim were caught by the accused in bed with his wife, and the accused pulled out a gun from his pocket and shot the victim, it might be voluntary manslaughter. If the accused went to his car, grabbed a gun, walked back into the house and shot the victim, it maybe murder. If the accused went to the car, got the gun and waited outside the house for the victim, it is much more likely to be murder.

Voluntary murder also includes a homicide committed if the accused believed he or she was in danger of death or serious bodily injury and used deadly force, but that belief was unreasonable. This is called imperfect self-defense.

Involuntary Manslaughter(18 Penn. Cons. Stat. § 2504):

If the accused did a lawful or unlawful act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner and killed someone in the process, he or she is guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter means that the death was accidental, but caused by an act so careless and irresponsible that it was criminal.

The act in question cannot merely be negligent. For instance, if the accused was carrying a gun with the safety off and it accidentally discharged and killed someone, it is unlikely to be involuntary manslaughter. If he or she was firing it into the air and a bullet hits and kills someone, it might be involuntary manslaughter.

While involuntary manslaughter is a misdemeanor, it can become a felony if the victim was younger than 12 and was under the care of the accused, or if the victim was a police officer or other law enforcement officer.

Drug Delivery Resulting in Death (18 Penn. Cons. Stat. § 2506):

If the accused sells or gives another person an illegal drug and that person dies as a result of using the drug, the person could be convicted of drug delivery resulting in death. It does not matter if the death was unintentional or caused by bad acts of the victim, like overdose.


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Punishments for Philadelphia Homicide Convictions

Murder of the first degree is the only crime that carries the potential of the death penalty. After the accused is found guilty, there is a separate hearing. The jury in the case hears all relevant evidence of aggravating and mitigating circumstances including impact statements from the victim's family, and then decides between death or life in prison.

For second-degree murder, life in prison is the only option. Third degree murder carries a sentence of maximum least 20 years and no more than 40. Any murder charge can also carry a fine up to $50,000.

Voluntary manslaughter carries a potential sentence of 10 to 20 years, and a fine up to $25,000.

If the victim of involuntary manslaughter was younger than 12 and in the accused's care or was a law enforcement officer, the punishment is five to 10 years and up to a $25,000 fine. For any other victim, the sentence is two and a half to five years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

Drug delivery resulting in death has a maximum sentence of not more than 40 years.


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<h3Fighting Homicide Charges in Pennsylvania

The prosecution must prove every element of their case beyond a reasonable doubt. It is the job of the defense to raise a reasonable doubt on the identity of the accused, or, if identity is proven, to raise a doubt on any element of the charges, or to prove an affirmative defense.

A wide range of evidence may come into play in a homicide case: the body, the weapon, motive, conversations that show intent, etc. Your Philadelphia criminal defense attorney can challenge every bit of evidence the prosecution presents by way of motions to suppress or exclude evidence. If successful, the case may be hobbled.

Vigorous cross-examination or evidence offered by the defense can render intent unclear, thus charges might be dropped to manslaughter or thrown out entirely. The difference between reduced charges in a homicide case can be measured in decades of jail time.

In any criminal matter, the defense does not have to prove anything at all, unless it is asserting what is called an "affirmative defense." Self-defense is an affirmative defense in homicide cases. You are justified in using deadly force if under the reasonable belief that it is necessary to prevent death, serious bodily injury, sexual assault or kidnapping of yourself or another person, and there was no reasonable opportunity to retreat without danger.

Insanity is another affirmative defense.

Once an affirmative defense is put into evidence, it becomes the burden of the Commonwealth to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the accused did not act either in self defense or was not legally insane at the time of the killing.


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Alva & Shuttleworth, LLC | Homicide Attorney in Philadelphia

With such dramatic charges facing you, you'll want a defense that understands strategy and can stand up to the onslaught prosecutors will try to throw at you. The experienced Philadelphia homicide lawyers of Alva & Shuttleworth, LLC can fight for you. Call us today at (215) 665-1695 to schedule an appointment if you're facing murder, manslaughter or other homicide charges in the Philly area, including Delaware County and Montgomery County.

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