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Accidental homicide during the commission of a felony

Most New Jersey residents know that first degree murder is considered the most serious type of homicide charge. And, through movies, television shows and other types of media, most of us know that first degree murder typically requires premeditation. That is, it typically requires the defendant coming up with a plan to kill the victim sometime before the crime took place. What many people may not know is that there are a number of types of cases in which a defendant may be convicted of first degree murder without having any such plan.

Under New Jersey law, there are a number of degrees of homicide, with varying degrees of harshness in their penalties. The most serious is known as murder, or first degree murder. To convict a defendant of first degree murder, the prosecution must show that the defendant purposefully killed another person or inflicted injuries from which the person later died. However, a defendant who accidentally killed another person while he or she was committing another felony crime may also be convicted of murder.

For example, if a defendant fired a gun while robbing a bank and the bullet killed someone, the defendant may be convicted of first degree murder, even if he or she had no plan or intention to kill anyone. Similarly, if the robber's getaway car accidentally runs over and kills a pedestrian a city block away from the bank, the robber may be convicted of murder because the homicide occurred during the robbery, and also during the commission of the crime of criminal escape.

The prosecution must prove each of the elements of all the crimes charged against a defendant in order to secure a conviction. Defense attorneys build a defense by attacking the prosecution's case on each of these elements. If the prosecution can't prove every element of every charge, its case can collapse.

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