The circumstances surrounding the death of a person may seem to be the fault of another. However, there is rarely a situation where the case is completely straightforward. Alaska state laws recognize this fact in the statutes regarding offenses against the person by providing a range of definitions, from murder in the first degree to criminally negligent homicide.
When presenting their defense, many people successfully argue that the charges should be reduced to a lesser offense.
Murder in the first degree
One of the major elements a prosecutor must prove is that the defendant intended to commit an act that would lead to the person's death, committed it and subsequently killed the person. Other acts that may constitute a charge of murder in the first degree include the following:
- Compelling a suicide through lies or duress
- Hurting a child under 16 years old through a criminally negligent act at least twice and subsequently killing the child
- Causing the death of a child under 16 during the act of kidnapping
- Killing someone during the act of perpetrating a terrorist threat or fleeing from the act
- Killing someone during the act of committing or attempting to commit first-degree criminal mischief
If other people are working with the individual to commit a terrorist threat, an act of criminal mischief or a kidnapping, and one of those conspirators dies during the act or during flight from the act, that would probably not result in a murder charge.
Murder in the second degree
This charge may result from acts that may, to the layperson, seem indistinguishably different from the first-degree murder acts. Intent is a factor, and criminal negligence may also be a factor. There is a wider range of criminal acts that could lead to a second-degree murder charge if the act causes a death, including committing any of the following:
- First-degree arson
- Burglary in the first degree
- Misconduct that involves controlled substances
- First- or second-degree escape
Manslaughter is a lesser charge than murder in the first or second degree, but it could still involve intentionally causing the death of another, or it could involve helping someone to commit suicide. If someone dies due to the ingestion of a controlled substance, the individual who manufactured it or provided it may face manslaughter charges.
Criminally negligent homicide
The law assumes that there is a level of care that most reasonable people take in order to avoid hurting other people. When an individual does not display that reasonable level of care and acts in a way that puts someone else's life at risk, it could be a criminally negligent act. If the act does lead to the death of another person, then the charge could be criminally negligent homicide.
All of these offenses are felonies, but the penalties may be vastly different depending on the circumstances, the defense and the discretion of the judge or jury.