Homicide Attorney

Facing homicide charges is among the most sobering events a person can experience. The legal penalties and consequences of a homicide conviction can reshape the remainder of your life, taking away your liberty, rights, and reputation. Even after serving your sentence, having a homicide on your permanent criminal record can make it challenging for you to find employment and a place to live. With so much at stake, it is essential to enlist the services of an experienced and skilled Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney.

Hiring a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer from SMT Legal can give you access to an aggressive attorney with a thorough understanding of the criminal justice system in Pittsburgh. We offer tailor-made defense strategies for individuals facing homicide charges of all levels. Call us today at (412) 765-3345 or contact us online for a free consultation with a homicide defense lawyer in Pittsburgh.

What Is Homicide?

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania defines homicide as the illegal killing of another human being that involves an element of intentionality, knowledge, recklessness, or gross negligence. Homicide charges encompass three different degrees of murder and two different types of manslaughter. Penalties upon conviction depend on the defendant’s state of mind at the moment of the crime.

While some homicide charges are considered less severe than others, they are all among the most consequential criminal charges possible. Anyone accused of these crimes requires robust legal representation to have a chance of avoiding the harshest consequences of conviction.

What Are the Different Degrees of Murder?

Murder charges apply if an individual takes someone else’s life when they were not acting in self-defense or defending another individual. Prosecutors may also bring murder charges when the killing occurred during the commission of a felony. The Commonwealth divides murder charges into three degrees.

First-Degree Murder

First-degree murder occurs when an individual takes another person’s life by poisoning them, lying in wait, or otherwise acting with willfulness, deliberation, and premeditation. While many people believe that first-degree murder charges can only apply if the defendant constructed a detailed plan to take the other person’s life, these charges do not require the defendant to have thought about the killing for a long time before the act occurred. They must simply have thought about it and made the decision to do it after some appreciable amount of time.
If a jury finds a defendant guilty of first-degree murder, the court is required to impose a sentence of life without the possibility of parole or death.

Second-Degree Murder

Charges of murder in the second degree (also known as felony murder) apply when a killing occurs when the defendant is directly involved in the commission of a dangerous felony or violent crime. Applicable crimes include armed robbery, burglary, and rape. It is worth noting that second-degree murder charges can apply even if the defendant was not the person who took the victim’s life. If they were committing a crime alongside an accomplice who committed the killing, the defendant can still be charged with second-degree murder.
If a jury finds a defendant guilty of second-degree murder, the court is required to impose a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

Third-Degree Murder

Charges of murder in the third degree apply in all other instances of murder. While third-degree murder charges indicate that the defendant acted intentionally, it does not include the element of premeditation.

Third-degree murder is a felony of the first degree. Yet, while most first-degree felonies carry a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, third-degree murder carries a 40-year maximum sentence. Pennsylvania sentencing guidelines recommend a minimum sentence of 10 years, even for those without a prior criminal record. However, this recommendation does not constitute a mandatory minimum. Working with an experienced third-degree murder defense attorney can optimize your chances of avoiding a lengthy prison sentence.

What Are the Different Types of Manslaughter Charges?

Manslaughter charges are less severe than murder charges. Pennsylvania recognizes two types of manslaughter charges: voluntary and involuntary.


Voluntary manslaughter occurs when an intentional killing happens in the “heat of passion” after provocation by the victim that would cause a reasonable person to become emotionally or mentally disturbed. This crime is a first-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines. An experienced manslaughter lawyer can work to get voluntary manslaughter charges reduced or dismissed.


Involuntary manslaughter happens when a death is caused by a reckless or grossly negligent act without lawful justification. Importantly, deaths caused by DUI (Driving Under the Influence) often result in involuntary manslaughter charges. This crime is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to five years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. A skilled manslaughter lawyer can fight to get involuntary manslaughter penalties reduced.

What Defense Strategies Are Available for Homicide in Pennsylvania?

There are several possible defenses that an experienced homicide attorney may use, depending on the specific facts of the case. Defense strategies may include the following:
  • Self-defense or defense of others – Your lawyer may argue the killing was justified to protect yourself or another from death or serious harm.
  • Innocence – Your attorney can challenge the prosecution’s evidence and work to show that you did not commit the alleged crime. Alibi witnesses and other evidence may be used.
  • Insanity – In rare cases, your lawyer may argue that you were legally insane at the time and unable to understand the nature of your act or that it was wrong.
  • Mistaken identity – If you were incorrectly identified as the perpetrator, your lawyer can challenge identification procedures and present evidence of the mistake.
  • Constitutional violations – Your attorney will determine whether any of your constitutional rights were violated and if key evidence should be excluded from the trial.
  • Manslaughter instead of murder – When appropriate, your lawyer may argue that your charge should be reduced from murder to manslaughter, resulting in lesser penalties.
An experienced Pittsburgh homicide defense attorney will carefully review all the evidence to determine the best approach to your case. If a conviction results, your attorney can fight to secure the most lenient sentence available. They can also help you consider your options for appeal. The ultimate goal is to protect your rights and freedom.

Contact SMT Legal Today

Anyone who is facing homicide charges in Pennsylvania must understand the gravity of their situation. Even those who are certain of their innocence must take every possible precaution, as prosecutors will work tirelessly to create a convincing case and secure a conviction. Before you take any further steps or speak to anyone else, your first priority should be to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can begin working to protect your rights.

The seasoned criminal defense team at SMT Legal believes every defendant deserves high-quality legal representation. Do not leave your fate in the hands of a public defender who is significantly overstretched by their workload. Our attorneys are committed to giving you and your case the individualized support you deserve during this challenging time, and we will work tirelessly to secure the most favorable result possible in your case.

Call us today at (412) 765-3345 or contact us online for a free consultation to learn more about how our Pennsylvania homicide defense attorneys can fight for you.


Thomas Sporrer Thomas Sporrer - SMT Legal Thomas Sporrer - SMT Legal
Thomas’s clients say of working with him that he was “very clear with his strategy of my case from the consultation to the court date.” Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Thomas enjoys helping his hometown community.

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