Premeditated murder is a murder committed by someone who planned ahead. The laws surrounding premeditated murder vary, but as a general rule it is treated as the most serious form of murder because of the fact that the murderer planned to kill beforehand. This is contrasted with situations in which people murder by accident, as for example in the heat of an argument. Usually, when premeditation is involved, a murder is treated as a first degree murder, which carries the stiffest penalties.
Premeditation can take a number of forms. Sometimes it involves working out the most effective way to kill someone, ranging from selecting a method which is likely to work on the first try to tracking someone's habits in order to pick an opportune moment. Additionally, premeditation can include thinking ahead to try and evade capture. For example, if someone obtains an unregistered gun and uses gloves to handle it, she or he has clearly both planned a murder method and taken steps to avoid capture and thus is planning to commit a premeditated murder.
In the case of first degree murder, in addition to premeditation, the murderer must also have “malice,” a desire to kill, along with deliberation, meaning that the murderer was fully aware that his or her actions would lead to death or serious injury. Proof of malice can include something like using a deadly weapon in an argument, statements made which indicated hatred for the victim, or statements made during questioning.
It can sometimes be difficult to prove premeditated murder, and defense attorneys take advantage of this when working with their clients. They may not want to dispute whether or not the client is responsible for a death, but will opt to try and reduce the severity of the charges. For example, if one spouse kills another, the defense might argue that the murder was accidental and occurred in the heat of the moment, not with deliberation or malice.
Certain types of murder methods are usually taken as automatic indicators that a premeditated murder was involved. For example, the use of poison requires premeditation because a murderer must introduce the poison to the victim with the awareness that the poison will kill.
Premeditated murder is not the only form of murder which can be severely punished. Felony murder, in which a murder takes place during the commission of a crime, can also be very serious. Likewise, the murder of a member of law enforcement is often treated very seriously by the judicial system.