Search someone’s criminal history for murder charges or convictions.

What Is Murder?

Murder is defined as the unlawful killing of a person without justification. There are several categories of murder from a legal perspective, each of which contain different penalties if one is convicted. Killing someone in self-defense or during wartime is not considered murder. 

Different Degrees of Murder

Not every murder is treated the same by the justice system. Depending on premeditation and malicious intent, some murders are dealt with more harshly by prosecutors. 

First-Degree Murder 

What distinguishes first-degree murder is that it is premeditated and malicious. First-degree murder carries the harshest punishments, and in some states, the death penalty is a possibility. About 25 states currently have the death penalty as an option. 

When the death penalty is considered an option, the murder is considered a “capital murder.” Even if the death penalty is not an option, life in prison is often on the table for someone who is convicted of first-degree murder. 

Second-Degree Murder 

Second-degree murder is different from first-degree because it is not premeditated. Those who are charged with this crime may argue that they were acting in self-defense. 

Voluntary Manslaughter 

Voluntary manslaughter is not premeditated or malicious and is sometimes called a “crime of passion” murder. An example of this is if someone walks in on their spouse cheating on them and commits murder. It is defined as murder under circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to become mentally and/or emotionally disturbed. 

Involuntary Manslaughter

Involuntary manslaughter is murder without the intent to kill. This would include accidentally killing someone in a car accident, perhaps involving a drunk driver. While involuntary manslaughter carries less severe penalties than the other murder charges, the accused can still spend years in prison if they are convicted.  

Murder Statistics in The U.S. 

  • In 2018, there were 16,214 murders in the United States, according to Statista. California has the most murders with 1,739. Texas was second with 1,322, and Florida was third with 1,107. Vermont had the least amount of murders with only 10. 
  • The most dangerous state for murders per capita in 2018 was Louisiana, with 11.4 per thousand, twice the national average. 
  • According to Neighborhood Scout, the capital for murders (per capita) in the United States is East St. Louis, with a murder rate 17 and 25 times higher than the national average in 2019 and 2020. Also, in the top 5 were Baltimore, Chester, Pennsylvania, and Gary, Indiana. Baltimore had 10 times the national average of murders per capita in 2019. 
  • About 63% of murders in the United States were committed using a firearm of some kind, much higher than in other countries where firearms are not nearly as prevalent. A study released in October 2019 showed that about 43% of U.S. households have a firearm in the home. 
  • According to the FBI, murders in the United States per thousand were down from 6.3 in 1998 to 5.3 in 2017. 

Famous Murder Cases

There are many famous murder cases, most of which were assassinations, or murder which was done for political reasons. Many of them have conspiracy theories accompanying them detailing what might have truly happened. 

John F. Kennedy

President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed on November 22, 1963, while driving through downtown Dallas in a motorcade. The person convicted of his murder was Lee Harvey Oswald, who shot him from the sixth story window of a book depository, which today is a museum. However, Oswald was killed by Jack Ruby while in police custody. 

Today, this is one of the most famous murders in history, with numerous conspiracy theories about what might have really happened or whether there was actually more than one shooter. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 

The most famous civil rights activist in the United States during the 1960s, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot to death in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968, by James Earl Ray. Similar to the murder of JFK, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s murder has conspiracy theories regarding whether James Earl Ray was framed and there was someone else involved in the murder. 

Abraham Lincoln 

President Abraham Lincoln, who saved the Union, was killed shortly after the Civil War. Lincoln became a target after the Emancipation Proclamation began the process of freeing slaves in the United States. He was killed while attending a play by John Wilkes Booth, an actor, and Confederate sympathizer. 

Julius Caesar

One of the most famous murders in history, Julius Caesar was assassinated by senators on the Ides of March, March 14, 44 B.C. His death sent the Roman Empire into turmoil which never recovered from the chaos that ensued. 

O.J. Simpson

O.J. Simpson was acquitted of the two charges against him for the murder of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman. O.J. was a famous football player and broadcaster, beloved by much of the American public. His trial became a national ordeal after Simpson was broadcasted fleeing in a white Ford Bronco. 

Although Simpson was found innocent of the murder charges, a jury unanimously found him responsible for both deaths in a civil suit, and the families were awarded $33.5 million in 1993. 

View our other Glossary Terms here

*This article is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice.