A person who kills another person commits a homicide, but not all homicides in New Jersey and around the country are illegal acts. A person who commits a homicide to defend their life or the lives of others may not face criminal charges if their use of force was appropriate and proportional to the threat they faced, but this is a subjective determination that is often left up o a jury. Individuals who kill others by accident can be prosecuted in New Jersey, but they are charged with manslaughter rather than murder.
First and second-degree murder charges
When homicides are committed intentionally and cannot be justified by self-defense, offenders can face either first or second-degree murder charges. Prosecutors file first-degree murder charges when offenders plan their crimes or kill others during the commission of another felony like robbery or kidnapping. This is the most serious kind of murder charge and carries the most severe penalties. Offenders are charged with murder in the second degree when they killed another person intentionally but did not plan to in advance. Prosecutors reserve this charge for offenders who were provoked and acted in the heat of the moment.
Homicide penalties in New Jersey
The penalty for first-degree murder in New Jersey is usually 30 years to life imprisonment, but offenders who are convicted of intentionally killing an on-duty police officer or a minor under the age of 14 are sent to prison for life and denied the possibility of parole. The custodial penalty for second-degree murder in New Jersey is 15 years to life. When determining the appropriate sentence, judges consider both mitigating factors raised by criminal defense attorneys and aggravating factors cited by prosecutors. Being provoked and feeling genuine remorse could lead to a shorter prison sentence, but being motivated by hate or having a long criminal history would likely result in more time behind bars.
Proof beyond a reasonable doubt
The penalties for taking the life of another are understandably harsh in New Jersey, but the law does give judges in the Garden State the discretion to examine facts and show leniency. The law also requires juries to presume the accused is innocent, and prosecutors must prove their cases beyond a reasonable doubt.