Murder is not a charge to be taken lightly. It is the most serious charge in criminal law and it can mean life in prison or in some cases the death penalty, especially for the first-degree murder.

Even if you did not spend your whole life in jail, and returned to society fully rehabilitated, society is often not so forgiving. A murder charge on your record can cause major problems when applying for a job, renting an apartment, or applying for certain professional licenses. 

No matter how much you have “changed,” your murder record will stay, it is just the way it works. Felony convictions have a way of sticking with you and following you around for the rest of your life. You can lose the life you know, your family, friends, marriage, kids, job, business, even your home, and property.

There is a lot at stake and that is why you need an aggressive, experienced, and smart criminal defense lawyer by your side. You need someone who knows the system and can go into the courtroom to fight for you, make sure your rights are protected, and get the best possible outcome.

Don’t try to do it alone. 

Overview of First Degree Murder

Murder is defined as the act of unlawfully killing another person. State and federal laws often categorize murders as first, second, and sometimes third-degree. First-degree murder has a specific set of requirements that it much meet:

  • The act was willful – The accused committed the act under his or her own free will and was not manipulated, forced, or coerced to do it.
  • The act was deliberate – The accused intended to commit the act.
  • The act was premeditated – The accused contemplated the act ahead of time or planned the murder. Usually, this time is not brief, which shows that the accused thought about the crime for some time before committing it.

Felony Murder Rule – Felony murder is a legal rule that expands the definition of murder. It applies when someone commits a certain kind of felony and someone else dies in the course of the felony. It doesn’t matter whether the death was intentional or accidental—the person who was involved in the commission of the felony, is liable for murder, even though, he or she did not actually kill the victim. 

Felonies that usually qualify for Felony Murder Rule:

  • Rape
  • Burglary
  • Robbery
  • Kidnapping
  • Arson
  • Child abuse
  • Torture against a child
  • Espionage 
  • Treason 

Malice Aforethought

Malice aforethought is a term that is often used in defining murder. In law, there are two types of malice:

  • Express malice – The person who committed the act of murder intended to kill the person or cause grievous bodily harm to them.
  • Implied malice – The person who committed the act of murder did so while committing a felony. It can also mean that the person who committed the act of murder did so in any way that displayed a depraved indifference to human life.

In today’s courtroom, malice aforethought is the mens rea or mental element that prosecutors must prove in certain states in order to get a first-degree murder conviction. Some states have shortened the term to simply “malice,” but the meaning is still the same.

Federal First Degree Murder Charges

Federal law clearly defined first-degree murder.

18 U.S. Code § 1111 – Murder

(a)Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. 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, escape, murder, kidnapping, treason, espionage, sabotage, aggravated sexual abuse or sexual abuse, child abuse, burglary, or robbery; or perpetrated as part of a pattern or practice of assault or torture against a child or children; or perpetrated from a premeditated design unlawfully and maliciously to effect the death of any human being other than him who is killed, is murder in the first degree.

Any other murder is murder in the second degree.

A murder charge can be tried in a federal court for several reasons:

  • The identity of the victim
    • Elected or appointed federal government official
    • Federal judge
    • Federal law enforcement officer
  • The murder occurred during the commission of a bank robbery
  • The murder occurred on a ship
  • The murder was committed in an attempt to influence a federal court case outcome
  • The murder was related to a sex crime such as:
    • Child molestation
    • Rape
    • Sexual exploitation of children
  • The murder was drug-related
  • Murder for hire that crossed state lines either physically or by methods of communication
  • The murder was committed by sending a deadly agent like explosives or poisons via the mail

Sometimes some of these cases may be tried at the state level, but most of the time these factors will land you in the federal court.

New York First Degree Murder Charges

New York law is very precise in determining what constitutes first-degree murder. 

New York Penal Law – Article 125 – Section 27 – Murder in the First Degree

A person is guilty of murder in the first degree when:

1. With intent to cause the death of another person, he causes the death of such person or of a third person; and

(a) Either:

(i) the intended victim was a police officer who was at the time of the killing engaged in the course of performing his official duties; or

(ii) the intended victim was a peace officer who was at the time of the killing engaged in the course of performing his official duties; or

(ii-a)  the  intended victim was a firefighter, emergency medical technician, ambulance driver, paramedic, physician or registered  nurse involved  in  a first response team, or any other individual who was engaged in such activities at the time of killing; or

(iii) the intended victim was an employee of a state correctional institution or was an employee of a local correctional facility who was at the time of the killing engaged in the course of performing his official duties; or

(iv) at the time of the commission of the killing, the defendant was confined in a state correctional institution or was otherwise in custody upon a sentence for the term of his natural life; or

(v) the intended victim was a witness to a crime committed on a prior occasion  and  the  death  was  caused for the purpose of preventing the intended victim’s testimony in any criminal action or proceeding; or

(vi) the defendant committed the killing or procured commission of the killing pursuant to an agreement with a person other than the intended victim to commit  the same for the receipt, or in expectation of the receipt, of anything of pecuniary value from a party to the agreement or from a person other than the intended victim acting at the direction of a party to such agreement; or

(vii) the victim was killed while the defendant was in the  course  of committing  or  attempting  to  commit  and  in  furtherance of robbery, burglary in the first degree or second degree, kidnapping in the first degree, arson in the first degree or second degree, rape in the first degree, criminal sexual act in the first degree, sexual abuse in the first degree, aggravated sexual abuse in the first degree or escape in the first degree, or in the course of and furtherance of  immediate flight after committing or attempting to commit any such crime or in the course of and furtherance of immediate flight after attempting to commit the crime of murder in the second degree; provided however, the victim is not a participant in one of the aforementioned crimes; or  

(viii) as part of the same criminal transaction, the defendant, with intent to cause serious physical injury to or the death of an additional person or persons, causes the death of an additional person or persons; provided, however, the victim is not  a participant in the criminal transaction; or 

(ix) prior to committing the killing, the defendant had been convicted of murder or had been convicted in another jurisdiction of murder; or 

(x) the defendant acted in an especially cruel and wanton manner pursuant to a course of conduct intended to inflict and inflicting torture upon the victim prior to the victim’s death; or 

(xi) the defendant intentionally caused the death of two or more additional persons within the state in separate  criminal  transactions within  a  period  of  twenty-four months when committed in a similar fashion or pursuant to a common scheme or plan; or

(xii) the intended victim was a judge and the defendant killed such victim because such victim was, at the time of the killing, a judge; or

(xiii) the victim was killed in furtherance of an act of terrorism; and

(b)  The defendant was more than eighteen years old at the time of the commission of the crime.

Murder in the first degree under New York law is a Class A-1 Felony.

Penalties for a Federal First Degree Murder Conviction

Each case is unique. Depending on the particulars of a case, a person may be convicted of first-degree murder or a lesser conviction such as second-degree murder or manslaughter. However, if a first-degree murder conviction is handed down, there are some serious potential consequences which include life in prison or the death penalty.

18 U.S. Code § 1111 – Murder

(b)Within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States,

Whoever is guilty of murder in the first degree shall be punished by death or by imprisonment for life;

Penalties for a First Degree Murder Conviction in New York

New York classifies murder in the first degree as an A-1 violent felony. The sentence for this is life in prison and the minimum is 15 years to 40 years in prison.

Defenses for First Degree Murder

A murder charge does not necessarily mean that the accused will be convicted of the crime. It just means that there is some evidence that points to that person as the one who committed it. Sometimes a good criminal law attorney can use certain defenses to get the charges reduced or even dropped completely.

Here are some of the common defenses for first-degree murder.

  • The killing was not willful, the accused was manipulated, forced, or coerced.
  • The killing was not intentional, it was accidental
  • The killing was not premeditated, it happened in the heat of the moment.
  • The accused acted by reason of insanity
  • The accused acted under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance and there was a reasonable excuse or explanation for that disturbance (Statutory – NY)
  • The accused was involved in causing or aiding another person to commit suicide and did so without using duress or deception (Statutory – NY)
  • The accused was acting in self-defense
  • The accused was acting in defense of another person
  • The accused is not the person who committed the crime
  • Illegal search and seizure
  • Procedural errors and omissions

First-degree murder charges are very serious. A single conviction can cost you your life, whether it’s life in prison or death row. If you are facing charges for first-degree murder or believe you are under investigation for the crime, you need a criminal defense attorney now.

Don’t wait to “see how things work out” because if you don’t have solid legal representation in your corner, things most assuredly will NOT turn out well. 

If you are seeking representation for your first-degree murder charge, you definitely need a lawyer.

Don’t try to navigate the criminal court system alone. Call The Litvak Law Firm today at (718) 989-2908. Mr. Litvak has the experience and knowledge that you need to ensure your rights are protected and to get you the best possible outcome in your first-degree murder criminal case. 

He is professional, attentive, and has an impressive track record with many high-profile cases and clients. Attorney Litvak got his clients their best outcome for their cases, and he can do the same for you. Call today to schedule your consultation and get the legal representation you are entitled to. Don’t wait and don’t try to go it alone. Make the call today.