There are several violent crimes that individuals may be charged with in New York. Murder in the first degree is a charge brought in connection with an intentional killing where any one of several aggravating factors is present. These factors include taking the life of a police officer or killing an individual during the commission of a crime. Second degree murder in New York can be committed in one of five ways.
One form of second degree murder is taking the life of a third party while attempting to kill another individual. A person can also be charged with murder in the second degree if they cause the death of an individual while behaving in a manner so reckless that it causes a grave risk of injury or death. This is referred to as having a depraved indifference to human life.
A charge of murder in the second degree may be filed against individuals who cause the death of a third party while committing certain crimes including rape and burglary, and these charges are also filed against those who recklessly cause the death of a child under the age of 11. The final situation where second degree murder charges may be filed in New York is the killing of a child under the age of 14 while committing a criminal sexual act such as rape.
Individuals charged with violent crimes often fear that they will be treated unsympathetically by the criminal justice system. The penalties associated with a first degree murder charge, a second degree murder charge and a charge of voluntary manslaughter vary greatly, and criminal defense attorneys may seek to have such charges reduced during plea discussions. Prosecutors working under heavy caseloads may be willing to consider a reduced plea even when the evidence available to them seems compelling, and pointing out mitigating factors such as the defendant's prior good behavior could lead to more lenient treatment.
Source: Findlaw, "New York Second Degree Murder Laws" , accessed on Dec. 10, 2015