RI & MA Homicide & Murder Defense Attorney

As a former prosecutor with the US Army JAG Corps and the US Attorney’s Office, Attorney Calcagni is well versed in the prosecution and defense of all types of criminal cases. This experience is invaluable in his ability to defend accused individuals on trial for felony crimes such as Murder and Manslaughter.

If you are facing murder or manslaughter charges in Rhode Island or Massachusetts it is imperative to find the right legal counsel. Given the severity of the penalties, you should hire an attorney with experience in defending people from these types of serious charges. For more information on the different types of charges, click on the links below:


Contact Murder and Manslaughter Criminal Defense Lawyer John L. Calcagni today at (401) 351-5100 to schedule a FREE CONSULTATION.


Murder Charges


Murder as defined by State and Federal laws vary according to the jurisdiction. Common law, or judicial law, determines that murder by definition is the unlawful taking of the life of another human being without provocation, justification, or excuse.
Murder has been categorized by the courts and lawmakers into groupings of degrees, charged according to the severity and malicious intent present in the accused at the time of the crime.

Four elements must be present for a crime to fit the definition of murder: intent to kill; intent to inflict grievous bodily harm; a reckless indifference to a high risk to human life that is unjustifiable; intent to commit a dangerous felony. These elements are important because they imply that someone could simply have the intent to do someone else physical harm, and still be charged murder unless the act was provoked.


Murder in the First Degree


First degree murder generally occurs through premeditation and a willful act, meaning the accused planned to kill the victim. A violent crime may also be elevated to the status of first degree murder under the felony murder rule, which states that a person commits first degree murder whenever any death, even accidental, occurs during or as a result of the commission of a violent felony such as burglary, rape, robbery, arson or kidnapping. Currently as there is no death penalty in Massachusetts or Rhode Island, the crime of first degree murder carries a maximum sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole. Under most Federal jurisdictions however, the death sentence is still a possibility if convicted in a Federal Court.

§ 11-23-1 Murder – The unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought is murder. Every murder perpetrated by poison, lying in wait, or any other kind of willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated killing, or committed in the perpetration of, or attempt to perpetrate, any arson or any violation… Every person guilty of murder in the first degree shall be imprisoned for life.
Rhode Island Criminal Offenses

Section 1. Murder committed with deliberately premeditated malice aforethought, or with extreme atrocity or cruelty, or in the commission or attempted commission of a crime punishable with death or imprisonment for life, is murder in the first degree.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts-General Laws

The extreme atrocity or cruelty category is determined predominantly by the jury. The Judge will instruct the jury that in order to apply the first degree murder decision, the defendant had to display an indifference to the suffering of the victim, the victim’s level of consciousness or suffering should be considered, the extent of the injuries, number of blows and manner and force in which they were delivered, the instrument used, and any disproportion between the force that was necessary to cause death and what was actually used.

And finally the category of felony murder is when murder in the first degree has been committed while attempting to commit a crime that is punishable by death or life imprisonment. Any death that occurs while in the act of committing a felony qualifies as murder in the first degree. The maximum sentence in most jurisdictions for first degree murder is life in prison without parole.


Second Degree Murder


Second-degree murder removes the quality of intent and premeditation. Instead under the laws governing this category of murder death must be the result of an assault in which the death of the victim was a distinct possibility, but was not intended.
In contrast to first-degree murder, there does not need to be extreme atrocity or cruelty, or participation in a felony that is punishable by life in prison, however the condition of malice is still present, meaning that the defendant committed the killing with an intention to inflict grievous bodily injury without justification, or that acted in a manner that would likely cause death or serious injury to another person. There does not need to be an intention to kill present.

Felony murder has the same guidelines that felony first degree murder applies, except that the underlying felony does not carry a penalty of death or life imprisonment. The maximum sentence for this degree of murder is life imprisonment with eligibility for parole after fifteen years, and unlike a first degree murder trial, the defendant has the choice to waive a jury trial and submit to a bench trial; which is a trial where the Judge alone determines guilt or innocence.
§ 11-23-1 Murder – The degree of murder may be charged in the indictment or information, and the jury may find the degree of murder, whether the murder is charged in the indictment or information or not, or may find the defendant guilty of a lesser offense than that charged in the indictment or information
Rhode Island Criminal Offenses

Murder which does not appear to be in the first degree is murder in the second degree. Petit treason shall be prosecuted and punished as murder. The degree of murder shall be found by the jury.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts-General Laws


Voluntary Manslaughter


Voluntary manslaughter, another form of murder, lacks the characteristics of malice that distinguishes it from murder, and usually occurs from sudden fighting or reasonable provocation. There is no definition under statutory law, as voluntary manslaughter is determined by common law or the courts.

Accordingly, the courts have determined that the unlawful killing of another, intentionally caused from a sudden transport of passion or heat of blood upon a reasonable provocation and without malice or upon sudden combat; or from the excessive use of force in self-defense will constitute voluntary manslaughter.

This category is another form of intentional homicide, however there is no malice and the killing is a result of reasonable provocation occurring out the heat of passion or intense emotion like anger, fear or nervous excitement to such a degree that common sense, restraint or the capacity for reflection are no longer available to the perpetrator. This must occur within a time period during which a reasonable person would not have had time to cool off.

With regard to the determination of what constitutes adequate provocation, the standard applied includes whether a reasonable person would have been provoked under the same circumstances. Words are not sufficient, under any circumstances, no matter what is said or how provoking it may be, intoxication by the defendant is not grounds, neither is the suspicion of an adulterous spouse, though the observance of a spouse in the act, or hearing the act in progress may constitute legally acceptable provocation.

The only other instance where voluntary manslaughter may be determined occurs in cases where there is sudden combat that is not deliberate, and where someone has applied deadly force in self defense. The maximum sentence for this crime is twenty years imprisonment, except in situations where explosives or infernal machines were used, in such cases the penalty is life in prison.

§ 11-23-3 Manslaughter – (a) Every person who shall commit manslaughter shall be imprisoned not exceeding thirty (30) years.
Rhode Island Criminal Offenses

Section 13: Manslaughter – Whoever commits manslaughter shall, except as hereinafter provided, be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than twenty years or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars and imprisonment in jail or a house of correction for not more than two and one-half years.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts-General Laws


Vehicular Homicide


Motor Vehicle Homicide, Hit and Run, or Vehicular Manslaughter is a charge that is divided into a felony count and a misdemeanor count with the criteria differing only on one point. In order to obtain a conviction for both charges, prosecutors must prove that you were in operation of the vehicle, that you were under the influence of a controlled substance or intoxicating substances, that you operated the vehicle negligently or recklessly, and that another person died as a result of the accident.

What is the difference between felony Motor Vehicle Homicide and a misdemeanor charge?

The difference between a felony charge and a misdemeanor charge is your involvement in the death. If the victim died as a direct result of your actions in your vehicle, it is a felony charge. If the victim died, but may have or would have died whether you were there or not, even though you were involved in the accident, then it is a misdemeanor. The penalties for reckless endangerment death resulting are 2 and a half years in prison for a misdemeanor, and up to 15 years in prison for a felony, with a one-year mandatory sentencing guideline.