First degree murder is the unlawful killing of an individual that was deliberate and/or planned. States typically have different definitions for first, second, and third degree murders. However, the elements that make up a first degree murder almost always include the planning to kill someone, the willfulness or determination to kill that person, and deliberately performing the murder. Another element that does exist in some state laws is to continue to have afterthoughts of malice following the murder, but this is not true for every state and even the states that do have this law define “afterthoughts of malice” differently. Another thing to keep in mind, too, is that a first degree murder is not the top level of murder. Capital murder is.
First degree murders must be by individuals who plan to take another person’s life, whether they’ve been planning to kill the person for years, months, weeks, days, hours, or minutes.
A first degree murder must also constitute the willfulness and determination to kill that person. It is often times difficult to determine this, as it is with the planning to kill someone, on a case to case basis. In some cases, a person may choose to kill another individual just mere minutes or seconds before taking the life of the person. This would still count as a willful and determined act to take the life of that person.
Thirdly, in a first degree murder the person must actually kill the other individual(s) deliberately. Accidental killings do not quality as first degree murders.
As you can tell, first degree murders can be difficult to define, but the trickiest part in defining comes to the states that have the afterthought of malice element included in the definition. This can include an indifference to human life and/or an evil disposition. This means that a person must deliberately kill another person, while showing no indifference or lack of concern following the killing.
Examples of first degree murders would include the killing of a child or pre-adulthood person with unreasonable force, the murder of a military or police officer, homicides such as rape, arson, or other violent crimes, or a killing performed as part of domestic abuse. While these are common examples of first degree murder, for a murder to truly be defined as first degree, it must meet the above elements as well.