The Homicide Unit was created by the District Attorney in 2000 to dedicate a handful of veteran trial attorneys to the exclusive prosecution of those who take the lives of others.
To ensure quality control, the District Attorney invoked a local court rule in 2005 which tasked the members of the unit with the review and approval of all search warrants and arrest warrants applied for in any homicide investigation undertaken in Allegheny County. As such, members of the unit are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to provide guidance to state, county and local police officers who investigate suspicious deaths.
The unit is staffed by career prosecutors with extensive trial experience, as well as support paralegals who assist with trial preparation and research.
The unit oversees the investigation and prosecution of a variety of cases, including those charging first degree, or premeditated murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence; second degree, or felony murder, which also carries a mandatory life sentence; and third degree, malicious murder, which can result in a sentence of twenty (20) to forty (40) years in prison. In addition, the unit handles cases involving “heat of passion” or “imperfect self-defense” killings, which often result in voluntary manslaughter felony convictions for up to ten (10) to twenty (20) years imprisonment. It is important to remember that anyone convicted of committing any of these crimes with a handgun in Pennsylvania is subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of five (5) years in prison.
Vehicular homicides also constitute a significant portion of the cases handled by the unit, often including felony charges for deaths resulting from violations of the Vehicles Code, especially those involving drunk drivers. In Pennsylvania, an impaired driver who takes the life of another faces a mandatory minimum sentence of three (3) years in prison. The unit also has responsibility for involuntary manslaughter charges, which are misdemeanors that arise from a person’s negligent or reckless conduct, often in connection with unsupervised children, unsecured firearms, controlled substances, and the like.
The members of the unit tend to concentrate on the more complicated and heinous murder cases, which make up only a fraction of the annual caseload. Fortunately, however, the District Attorney is also well-served by a cadre of equally experienced prosecutors drawn from other units in the Office, who routinely lend their expertise to those homicide cases best suited to their particular talents. As such, the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office is well equipped to ensure that justice is distributed – forcefully, fairly, and professionally – to any person who takes the life of another.