Different Murder Charges in Illinois & What They Mean

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What Are the Different Types of Murder Charges?

Any murder is horrific, but for almost all of the United States, not all murders are the same. Since 1794, most states have created distinctions between what are called first degree and second-degree murders. Some, like Florida, have a third-degree category, and some, like Kentucky, have no degrees at all. In these cases, state legislatures are more or less free to set their own standards - and their own penalties. This means that citizens should be aware of the difference between murder charges in their home state.

Illinois residents should be aware of the different types of murder charges that the state recognizes, and the criminal defense attorneys at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC are experienced in the laws of the Land of Lincoln. Call us for a free consultation at (312) 644-0444.

First Degree: Murder with Malice


Illinois Statutes 5/9-1 provides three different means of determining if an act of murder was in the first degree, but they center largely around intent. Killing someone with the intent to “kill or do great bodily harm” counts. So does doing something that the perpetrator is sure will kill someone, or even might. The state also considers aking a life in the process of committing a “forcible felony other than second-degree murder” to be first-degree murder.

As of 2011, the conviction for first-degree murder in Illinois no longer results in the death penalty. However, the accused still faces 20 to 60 years in prison. That can increase to a life sentence if the courts find aggravating factors in the case. Statutes 5/91 lists 21 possible factors, ranging from premeditated murder to use of torture to choosing a law enforcement official as the victim.

Second Degree: Sudden and Intense

The state’s definition of second-degree murder differs from that of first degree in a handful of ways. What makes them different murder charges in Illinois’ law is the presence of mitigating factors that shift the degree. According to Statutes 5/9-2, a murder is considered second degree if the accused unreasonably believed at the time that the killing was legally justified. Another mitigating factor is if someone provokes the accused so that they commit the murder “under a sudden and intense passion.” Essentially, it’s murder that wasn’t planned beforehand and done in the heat of the moment.

As a Class 1 Felony, the sentence for a second-degree murder would include 4 to 20 years in prison - or possibly four years of probation, depending on circumstances. However, the defense must prove that either of those mitigating factors was present, or the charges could remain at the first degree.

Manslaughter: A Different Form of Homicide


Murder devoid of intent falls outside the different degrees of murder. Many law books, including that of Illinois, classify it as a form of homicide distinct from murder altogether: manslaughter. This, in turn, is divided into voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.

The only form of voluntary manslaughter that Illinois state law recognizes is when the victim is an unborn child. The definitions for this crime under Statutes 5/9-2.1 are similar to those of second-degree murder. The accused had to either act under a “sudden and intense passion” that would provoke such behavior from a “reasonable person,” or falsely believe that circumstances legally justified it. Abortion “to which the pregnant woman has consented” would not be considered manslaughter.

Involuntary manslaughter is more broadly defined by Statutes 5/9-3 as occurring when one, legally or otherwise, “recklessly performs acts” that are potentially dangerous and result in death. The state designates this as a Class 3 Felony, with up to $25,000 in fines and 2-5 years in prison. For comparison, it views voluntary manslaughter as a Class 1 Felony, which has the same maximum fine but raises maximum jail time to 15 years.

There’s also reckless homicide, which is manslaughter specifically involving a vehicle. The statute specifies the cause of death as a motor vehicle, all-terrain vehicle, snowmobile, or watercraft. Reckless homicide in Illinois is a Class 3 Felony, but aggravating factors can elevate it to Class 2, meaning more prison time. These factors include committing it in a school zone, making the vehicle “airborne,” and killing an active-duty peace officer.

Contact Experienced Attorneys in Chicago

The different murder charges in Illinois can often be difficult to distinguish based on the circumstances of the offense. If you have any concerns related to this or other criminal defense matters like assault and battery, the experienced Chicago attorneys at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC are available to help. Our lawyers are very experienced in procedure and sentencing. We always fight tirelessly for our clients and in the interest of justice. To learn more about us and what we can do for you, reach out to us at (312) 644-0444 to receive a free consultation.

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Written by Mitchell S. Sexner Last Updated : August 3, 2020