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Good Question: What's The Difference Between First, Second and Third Degree Murder?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The Hennepin County Attorney's Office could file charges as early as Tuesday against Pierre Collins in the death of his 10-year-old son, Barway. On Monday, the Crystal Police Department announced they'd arrested Collins for second-degree homicide. That could signal investigators have collected enough evidence for a second-degree murder charge, but ultimately, it's up to the prosecutors to decide.

So, what are the differences between first-, second- and third-degree murder?

Minnesota Statute 609.185 lays out seven circumstances for a first-degree murder charge. It carries a sentence of life without parole in Minnesota.

1. Premeditation
2. While committing or attempting to commit criminal sexual conduct
3. While committing another serious felony
4. Killing of a police officer
5. Repeated Child Abuse
6. Repeated Domestic Abuse
7. Terrorism

Premeditation is the primary reason behind a murder charge. Marsh Halberg, a criminal defense attorney, says it can be a hard thing to prove. Byron Smith was convicted of first-degree murder after he killed two teenagers in his Little Falls home. The key pieces of evidence in the trial were audio recordings.

"Premeditation doesn't mean days or weeks or months," Halberg said. "Premeditation can mean a very short amount of time, just moments that you planned to do it."

According to Minnesota Statute 609.19, second-degree murder can be intentional or unintentional. An intentional murder would be a drive-by shooting or to intentionally cause a death, but not plan it. An unintentional second-degree murder would be when someone is killed during another felony, like robbing a convenience store.

Many times, prosecutors will charge someone with a second-degree murder, even if they believe there was premeditation, so they have the time to prepare a first-degree charge. In Minnesota, a first-degree murder charge requires a grand jury indictment, so prosecutors will wait to issue that charge later.

Third-degree murder is a rare charge. It's described as unintentional, but causing a reckless act that would endanger someone to the point they would die.

When it comes to manslaughter, there are two degrees. The first-degree would generally mean a crime of passion. Second-degree would be negligence that would cause unreasonable risk.

Halberg says prosecutors charge what they think they can prove.

"They're going forward with the strongest charges they can and hope they're successful," he said. "But, they're not going to embarrass themselves or waste the courts time with anything unfounded."

Police haven't yet officially charged Pierre Collins.

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