Statutory law can be difficult for non-lawyers to navigate. One feature that is often found is that one section of the laws will not define a topic directly, but instead, will define it by something else. For instance, in Michigan, the statutory definition of a criminal charge for second-degree murder is this: “All other kinds of murder shall be murder of the second degree….”
It is defined in reference to first-degree murder and so to determine if a crime is a second-degree murder in Michigan, you first have to check that it is not something encompassed by the definition of first-degree murder.
And the “nesting dolls” of the statutory definitions continues when you refer back to the first-degree murder statute, which is section 750.312. It begins unhelpfully by noting, “except as provided in sections 25 and 25a….”
For practical purposes, the important difference between first- and second-degree murder is intent and premeditation. If you intend to kill someone or plan the killing, you are likely to be charged with first-degree murder, which carries a life without parole sentence in Michigan.
However, second-degree murder also can carry a life in prison sentence although parole may be available.
Most people cannot imagine any situation where they would be charged with second-degree murder. They would never plan anyone’s death. And it is a good thing that murder is quite rare, given the severe consequences it often imposes on those found guilty.
But there is one circumstance where an individual could find themselves facing a second-degree murder charge; that being if you cause the death of another person while driving a motor vehicle.
Should this happen, you need to recognize that this is not merely a drunk driving charge and you might spend 90 days in jail and lose your license for a few months or years. All drunk driving charges are serious, but in this case, you could be charged with second-degree murder and face life in prison.
That is a sobering thought for anyone who drives a car or truck in Michigan.
Source: mlive.com, “Star football player’s death leads to murder charge for suspected drunken driver,” John Agar, October 30, 2015