Four men are now facing federal murder charges connected to the shooting death of a Philadelphia police officer. In March, a police officer was killed while attempting to serve a fugitive warrant to a suspect in Frankfort, Pennsylvania.  Hassan Elliott, the 22-year-old defendant accused of shooting the officer, will be eligible for the death penalty. However, the US attorney general and the federal jury who will hear the case at trial would need to approve the death penalty. 

The Defendants Face State and Federal Charges

The other three co-defendants face additional firearms and drug-related criminal charges. All of the defendants already had pending state-level criminal charges connected to the police officer’s March shooting. Law Enforcement Officers had previously not been able to locate and arrest Elliott. Elliott also failed to appear for two different probation violation hearings when he was served the arrest warrant. The slain officer was part of a six-person SWAT unit tasked with arresting him on a previous murder charge when the shooting occurred. 

After officers breached Elliott’s apartment door, they began firing. Elliot fired back over 20 shots, some of which struck the police officer through the closed door of his bedroom. Prosecutors allege that the apartment had been used for a large drug trafficking operation. The defendants allegedly stored processed and packaged marijuana and cocaine for distribution. Elliott now faces the following criminal charges:

  • First-degree murder
  • Criminal homicide of a law enforcement officer
  • Attempted criminal homicide of a law enforcement officer
  • Aggravated assault 

Understanding Pennsylvania’s Murder Laws

Murder charges are among the most serious criminal charges a defendant can face. Defendants charged with first-degree murder face a prison sentence and, in rare cases, the death penalty. The defendants in the case mentioned above are facing federal and state-level murder charges. Whenever one person causes another person’s death, prosecutors can bring homicide charges.  The type of murder charge a defendant faces depends on the facts and circumstances of the case. 

For example, murder in the first degree is the most serious type of murder charge in Pennsylvania, and it requires prosecutors to prove that the defendant engaged in an intentional killing of the victim. Prosecutors will bring manslaughter charges when the defendant did not intentionally kill the victim. Pennsylvania law recognizes the following eight categories of criminal homicide:

  • Murder in the first degree
  • Murder in the second degree
  • Murder in the third degree
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Involuntary manslaughter
  • Causing or aiding in a suicide
  • Drug delivery resulting in death
  • Criminal homicide of a law enforcement officer

Murder in the First Degree

First-degree murder is the most serious type of murder charge, and it involves intentional killing. When a person walks up to someone they hate and want to kill and shoots them to death, prosecutors will bring charges of murder in the first degree. Premeditation is the element of Murder in the first-degree that sets it apart from other types of homicide. 

One of the best defenses to murder in the first degree charges is to prove that the defendant did not intend to commit murder. When prosecutors do not have enough evidence to prove that the defendant intended to kill the victim beyond a reasonable doubt, the court cannot convict the defendant of murder. In some cases, prosecutors overcharge the sentence with murder in the first degree when they should have charged the defendant with a lower level homicide charge.

Murder in the Second Degree

Murder in the second degree is more complicated and less straightforward than murder in the first-degree. Defendants who murder someone while committing a felony, such as a burglary or carjacking, can face charges for murder in the second degree. Notably, the defendant does not need to be the person who committed the killing to face charges for murder in the second degree. For example, if two people rob a bank, and one person shoots and kills the bank teller, the other person can face charges for murder in the first degree.

Prosecutors do not have to prove that the defendant had a premeditated plan to kill the victim. Instead, the prosecution only needs to prove that the defendant intended to commit burglary or robbery and that a murder happened as part of the crime.

Murder in the Third Degree

Murder in the third degree includes criminal homicides that don’t meet the requirements for first and second-degree murder. For example, if the defendant intentionally assaulted a victim but did not intend to kill the victim, he can face third-degree murder charges. Prosecutors do not charge third-degree murder as a capital offense. Accordingly, criminal defense lawyers will often negotiate with prosecutors to reduce their clients’ charges down from first or second-degree murder to third-degree murder.

Manslaughter Charges

The crime of manslaughter is still considered a criminal homicide, but manslaughter is not a premeditated crime. Manslaughter occurs as the unintended result of other criminal behavior. The defendant may have killed another person as the result of being provoked. Involuntary manslaughter occurs when the defendant acts under a sudden and intense passion resulting from the victim’s serious provocation. In these situations, when the defendant can prove that he or she had a lawful justification for the killing, he will face manslaughter charges. Manslaughter charges are often referred to as ‘heat of passion’ crimes. 

Involuntary manslaughter occurs when the defendant engages in an unlawful act in a grossly negligent or reckless manner. It can also happen when the defendant engages in a lawful act in a grossly negligent or reckless manner, causing another person’s death. Involuntary manslaughter is the least severe criminal homicide charge.

Contact a Philadelphia Murder Defense Lawyer

If you are facing murder charges in Philadelphia, you need an experienced, trial-ready lawyer on your side as soon as possible. Contact Abramson & Denenberg, P.C. to learn how our experienced legal team can fight for your rights.

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