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What Is First-Degree Murder Punishment: What to Expect

Several states in the U.S consider first-degree murder as one of the most serious forms of murder. This is why not all murder charges are classified as the first degree. First-degree murder charges also draw a very harsh sentence than any other crime.

There are other states like Texas that do not use the term first-degree murder but distinguish between capital and felony murder. Though first-degree murder punishment can vary in different states, one can either be faced with a death sentence or life in prison life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Let us take a look at penalties and first-degree murder sentencing.

Proving First Degree Murder

First-degree murder is a type of homicide offense that is also an intentional killing. Homicide is the legal term for any killing of a person by another.

Homicide itself is not a crime. This is especially if the killing was justifiable; for example, the killing of a suspect by the police or a killing in self-defense.

First-degree murder involves three elements; planning, premeditation, and deliberation. For you to be charged and convicted with first-degree murder, the prosecutor should first prove that the defendant acted with actual malice. This is by showing that you intended to kill the victim.

If there is no proof that you acted with express malice, you can be convicted with a lesser crime. Your intent to commit murder might be shown after the state evaluates your circumstances and actions, and if you used a deadly weapon to commit the crime.

Other types of homicide are second-degree murder, which occurs when a victim is killed while the defendant was committing a different crime such as robbery, or third-degree murder that includes any other type of murder and involve malice.

You can also be charged with voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter, which is an unintentional homicide. Facing first-degree murder charges or any other murder sentence is never easy. This is why you will need to have a good murder defense lawyer to prepare the best possible defense for you.

Aggravating Factors in First Degree Murder Punishment

State laws have specific factors that render anybody guilty of first-degree murder harshest sentence. There are some aggravating factors such as aspects of the defendant, victim, or the crime that can make the defendant suitable for life in prison without the possibility of parole or death penalty.

For instance, if the victim was a law enforcement officer on duty, the killing involved torture, or the murder occurred during a crime like a robbery, rape, or arson, that will attract the maximum sentence.

Again, if the killing involved explosive materials or bombs or the victim was a witness, juror, prosecutor or judge, the same sentencing applies.

A defendant is also likely to attract the harshest sentencing if they are members of a gang, or if they poisoned the victim.

In some states, the prosecutor uses these factors for sentencing. Please consult your state law for the specific aggravating factors that they use.

Penalties and Sentences

If you are convicted of first-degree murder, you will proceed to your trial’s sentencing phase. The prosecutor and your attorney will both present arguments about the kind of punishment that you should receive.

The compulsory minimum sentence for first-degree murder is always higher than that for any other type of homicide. Here are some of the penalties that you can face:

Death Penalty

Although some states still have the death penalty as the highest punishment for murder offense, these states differ in terms of how the prosecution will seek the death penalty.

In California, for example, aggravated first-degree murder charges can call for either the death penalty or life in prison without parole. Texas enforces a death sentence on everyone who is convicted of capital murder.

Life Without Parole

If you are in states that don’t execute the death penalty on a first-degree murder charge with aggravating factors, you might end up facing a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. This is especially if the prosecution is not able to convince the court to execute the death penalty or do not seek it.

Lesser Sentences

If you are facing a first-degree murder charge without any aggravating factors, there are a variety of prison sentences that you can face. Such sentences include life in prison with the possibility of parole.

These sentences vary by state. For example, in California, the sentence can be 25 years to life.

Defenses to First Degree Murder Charges

During sentencing, the prosecutor may present some evidence of aggravating factors so that they can support a death penalty. Your defense attorney, on the other hand, can present evidence to mitigate the factors and also argue against the death penalty.

Some defenses that your attorney can raise include:

  • That it is a case of mistaken identity
  • You have an alibi for the date and time of the murder.
  • You were under the influence of an intoxicating substance at the time of the offense
  • You were under duress
  • You were acting in self-defense
  • The killing was accidental
  • You were insane at the time of the offense
  • You had battered women’s syndrome

If your murder attorney successfully argues your sentencing using these defenses, you are most likely to face a lesser sentence than the death penalty. Facing murder charges is quite devastating. Always get help from an experienced attorney if facing such charges.

Consult an Attorney to Help You Handle Your First Degree Punishment

First-degree murder charges are quite complicated, and they also carry very high stakes. Your attorney will review and analyze the evidence that is being held against you so that they can know the best defense strategies to use. This way, you can have a lesser first-degree murder punishment.

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