A homicide charge can end your life as you know it. A single charge can mean years in prison, even the rest of your life. The stigma attached to a “murderer” can mean that your access to housing, education, and employment is severely limited. It can make you a social outcast, especially if your case is high profile and the media runs stories about it. Without a good lawyer behind you, you could face some very serious consequences.
There are certain crimes that society deems “heinous” and homicide is one of them. There is no statute of limitations on the crime, so there will never be a time when you are truly free until you either get the charges dropped or go to court and get acquitted. You need an attorney for that.
A good attorney will fight for you and protect your rights. They will work hard to clear your name or help you get the best possible outcome. If you’ve been charged with murder or manslaughter, you need an experienced, knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer. You need Igor Litvak of The Litvak Law Firm in your corner.
EXPERIENCE AND SKILL IN REPRESENTING CLIENTS CHARGED WITH HOMICIDE
Mr. Litvak has years behind him as a criminal defense attorney. His experience and knowledge of federal and state law make him a powerful presence in the courtroom. His dedication and skill have garnered him an impressive track record of both federal and state level. He is compassionate and very accessible for his clients, working with them, helping them understand their charges and explaining to them what lies ahead. His notable homicide cases include:
The People of the State of New York v Khmil – Staten Island, New York – Co-Counsel
A high-profile case out of Staten Island involving allegations that failure to follow legal requirements when attaching a boat trailer to a truck, led to the trailer detaching in transit and killing one bicyclist and seriously injuring another. Client was indicted on a number of felonies, including manslaughter, criminal negligent homicide, assault and reckless endangerment. Client was facing years of jail, however, after the case was vigorously defended for a year and a half, including filings of numerous motions, it was eventually resolved with 39 days of incarceration.
The People of the State of New York v Antoine – Brooklyn, New York – Lead Counsel for Pre-Trial and Co-Counsel for Trial
Attempted murder and gun possession case; client was on the run for a year before being arrested on Florida and extradited to New York. Allegations involved landlord-tenant dispute which turned violent. Client was convicted at trial and sentenced to 20 years of incarceration. Verdict and sentence are currently being appealed.
OVERVIEW OF HOMICIDE CHARGES
There is a widespread belief that all homicides are crimes. That simply is not true. The term homicide only means the killing of a human, it does not denote the legality of the action. Some homicides, like murder and manslaughter, are criminal. Justified self-defense, on the other hand, is still a homicide, but it is not a crime. While both murder and manslaughter are both considered illegal homicide, there are several degrees to each one that indicate the severity of the crime. The technicalities of homicide can be very complex, and the legal process long and confusing.
FEDERAL HOMICIDE CRIMES
In the United States, the Constitution places criminal law under the purview of the state in which the crime was committed – for the most part. There are times when a homicide also violates a federal law and when that happens, you could wind up standing before a federal judge. Typically, circumstances that could result in a homicide case being turned over to federal court include:
When the killings:
- Involve crossing state borders;
- Are considered an attack on the judicial system or on the U.S. government;
- Involve drug trafficking;
- Occur on a body of water;
- The murder victim is an appointed or elected federal official;
- The murder is used to influence a court case outcome;
- The murder is committed by mail (mail bombs, biological hazards, poisons, and other lethal items);
- The murder occurs on board a ship;
- The murder victim is a law enforcement official or federal judge;
- The murder occurs during a bank robbery;
- The murderer was hired to kill the person;
- The murder victim is an immediate family member of a law enforcement official;
- The murder is related to a sex crime such as child molestation, kidnapping, rape, and sexual exploitation of a child.
HOMICIDE CHARGES IN NEW YORK
The official definition of murder (illegal homicide) is an act that involves the intentional killing of a person and that act is not legal, nor is it legally justifiable. The act is carried out with “malice aforethought,” meaning the defendant intended to kill the person and they had no legal justification to do so. However, malice aforethought can also apply if the defendant inflicted serious bodily harm on another person and that resulted in that person’s death.
Under New York law, there are at least 17 different homicide offenses. Most of these are felonies. Under these, the charges are denoted by degree and class which indicate the seriousness of the crime as well as the penalties the defendant may face if they are convicted. Contrary to popular belief, there is not just one, simple “murder” charge (although a person can be charged with murder only). In addition to degrees, there are many variations that range from aggravated murder to vehicular manslaughter to criminally negligent homicide. Murder is always an A-1 felony, regardless of whether it is first degree, aggravated offense, or second degree.
TYPES OF HOMICIDE CHARGES
There are many different types of illegal homicide charges in New York:
- First degree murder – Killing a police officer or correctional officer in the line of duty, killing a witness to a crime and they were going to testify in the case for those crimes, killing judges, murder for hire, felony murder (someone is killed during the commission of a felony or attempted felony, the killer already has a first-degree murder conviction, or if the killer tortured the victim until they died.
- Second degree murder – Intentionally causing a person’s death, the victim was killed during the commission of a crime such as sexual assault, burglary, robbery, or arson; the person was killed due to the defendant’s recklessness and they are shown to have had a depraved indifference for human life; the victim was under the age of 11 and the death occurred during the commission of a sex crime.
- Criminally negligent homicide – If the defendant’s indifference, carelessness, or recklessness led to another person’s death.
- Aggravated criminally negligent homicide – If the defendant’s indifference, carelessness, or recklessness led to the death of a law enforcement officer while in the line of duty.
- First degree vehicular manslaughter – If the defendant caused another person’s death while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol with a revoked or suspended license or while breaking a traffic law.
- Second degree vehicular manslaughter – If the defendant unintentionally caused the death of another person while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol or while violating a traffic law.
- First degree manslaughter – If the defendant unintentionally caused the death of a person when they only intend to injure them, or if they accidentally kill a person while they are attempting to murder another person.
- Second degree manslaughter – If the defendant, while committing a crime, causes a person’s death. This charge also indicates that the prosecutor was of the belief that the killing was not premeditated or malicious.
PENALTIES FOR HOMICIDE CHARGES IN NEW YORK
In a 2004 landmark case, People v. LaValle, the New York Court of Appeals found that the state’s statute on capital punishment violated its state constitution and stopped the practice. In 2007, it was formally abolished. This means crimes that were once “capital offenses” such as killing a police officer in the line of duty, no longer get the death penalty in New York. Instead, the defendant usually gets life in prison.
State law increases the penalties for murder. For instance, first degree murder carries a minimum sentence of 20 to 25 years unless the defendant is given life without parole. The minimum sentence for attempted first degree murder is 20 to 40 years. Second degree murder can carry a 15 year to life sentence at one end of the spectrum, and 25 years to life sentence at the other end.
Manslaughter is a somewhat lesser charge than murder, but you could still go to prison. Being sentenced for a manslaughter conviction could mean that you are in prison for several years. Manslaughter in the first degree carries a minimum of 5 years in prison and a maximum of 25 years. Manslaughter in the second degree carries between 3 and 15 years. A charge of aggravated manslaughter will get you between 7 and 20 years.
Prosecutors takes several factors into account when determining what penalty they will ask for. They will look at who the victim is, intent of the person charged, and any other mitigating or aggravating factors stemming from the case. Prosecutors will also use this information to build their case to make it as strong as possible.
Homicide defenses often do not aim to remove the charges completely. Instead, they often attempt to reduce the charge from something serious to a charge that is less serious. For instance, by getting a defendant’s charges reduced from first degree murder to involuntary manslaughter, that person’s prison time could be substantially reduced.
The burden of proof is on the prosecution to show that the defendant intended to kill the person or that they acted with the mental state required for the specific charge. Intent is one, premeditation is another that is commonly used.
One of the most common homicide defenses is justifiable homicide. This is considered a “complete defense” because there are no penalties, punishment, or sentencing attached to it. It means that the person acted in self-defense and had the reasonable belief that the action was necessary in order to protect themselves, their property, another person, or to prevent a crime. This defense can also be used if the defendant was under duress when they committed murder. If they were forced to commit the crime they may be relieved of the charges.
The defense can also claim that the defendant does not or did not understand that they are duty bound to not take a life. If the defendant was not about to act on that duty it could also fall under this defense. Insanity is often claimed in this case, as well as intoxication, unconsciousness, and diminished capacity. The defense must prove that the defendant was not mentally sound at the time they committed the crime.
A reasonable mistake defense may also be used. It means that the defendant lacks the mental state or knowledge to understand that the killing was unjustified and illegal. Mistakes of fact and entrapment may also be used by the defense.
If you are facing a homicide charge or if you are under investigation for homicide, you shouldn’t fight it alone. Call Litvak Law Firm at (718) 929-2908. Your initial phone consultation is free. You can’t afford to wait and see what happens. You need to stay ahead of it. Even if you are innocent, you can still be arrested and charged. The prosecution will usually go for the strongest, most severe sentence available. If you don’t have an attorney, you are at their mercy. Don’t leave your future and the outcome of your case to chance, get the representation you deserve. Make the call today.