Third-degree murder is an uncommon criminal charge that has come under scrutiny in recent years when it’s filed against police officers charged with killing civilians.
The count applies when someone causes a death “by perpetuating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind,” according to state statute.
Attorneys said a classic case of third-degree murder would involve a drunken driver killing someone with their car.
The statute is also written to charge people who sell or give drugs to someone who dies of an overdose.
Minnesota State Supreme Court precedent has determined that the charge applies in cases where other people aside from the victim are at risk of physical harm.
But the statute’s language and application is confusing even to veteran attorneys.
“What the heck does ‘evincing a depraved mind’ mean?” asked Joseph Daly, emeritus professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. “The elements of the crime confuse me, and I’m a relatively sophisticated law professor who taught criminal law and handled a lot of criminal cases.”
Second-degree murder is applicable when a suspect’s actions target a specific person. It can be charged when there was an intent to kill someone or when there was no intent to kill but the actions resulted in a death. It’s a common charge in domestic-abuse killings and retaliatory shootings, among other cases. Third-degree murder is charged when there is no intent to cause a death.
Second-degree murder is punishable by up to 40 years in prison, third-degree by up to 25 years.