For the majority of us, the closest contact we have with murder is watching make-believe victims on television or movies. However, as Norman Bates concisely explained in the movie Psycho, we all have a breaking point, and for an unlucky few, fiction becomes reality.
In the District of Columbia, the law recognizes two murder offenses: First Degree Murder (“FDM”) and Second Degree Murder (“SDM”). There are two types of FDM, Premeditated Murder and Felony Murder, and only one type of SDM.
For Premeditated Murder, the government must prove that the defendant intentionally caused the death of another after a period of premeditation and deliberation. This means that the government has to prove that a defendant had time to think about killing someone before actually committing the murder. The law does not require that premeditation and deliberation take any particular amount of time. Forming intent to kill and deliberating about it may be instantaneous, and the government only has to prove the fact of malice aforethought, not the length of time it lasted. The biggest difference between FDM and SDM is premeditation and deliberation.
Premeditated Murder is the most serious homicide offense because it is considered to be the most heinous and there are no mitigating circumstances. What that means is that there are no factors to justify the defendant’s act of premeditating and deliberating the murder. The government’s job isn’t as easy as it seems though. Showing intent, premeditation, and deliberation requires the government to show a jury what you were thinking. If the government cannot prove you acted with malice aforethought, you cannot be convicted of Premeditated Murder. Therefore, your best chance at avoiding a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole is hiring an experienced homicide attorney to challenge the government’s evidence of premeditation and deliberation.
For the other type of FDM, Felony Murder, the government must prove that the defendant caused the death of another while committing or attempting to commit a felony. The government does not have to prove that you intended to kill the person, just that you did so while committing or attempting to commit a felony. For example, a person robs a convenience store clerk at gun point during which time the robber’s gun accidently misfires and kills the clerk. Although the robber didn’t intend to kill the clerk, he or she can be charged with Felony Murder. Unfortunately, Felony Murder carries the same penalties as Premeditated Murder. A common defense is that the defendant was not attempting to commit a felony, and is not therefore guilty of felony murder. Your D.C. criminal defense lawyer should be well-versed in this defense.
If the government fails to prove premeditation or the commission (or attempted commission) of a felony, you can avoid an FDM conviction but you may face an SDM conviction. For SDM the government must prove that the defendant intentionally caused the death of another or acted in conscious disregard of an extreme risk of death or serious bodily injury to the victim. Similar to FDM, SDM involves no mitigating circumstances and an SDM conviction carries significant prison time. However, unlike FDM where no factors can mitigate malice aforethought, many factors can mitigate SDM, reducing it to a lesser offense like manslaughter. For more information on mitigating circumstances and manslaughter, please see the second installment of this blog post.
Since FDM and SDM carry the highest penalties under DC law, it is imperative that you hire a skilled DC criminal defense lawyer who will assert any and all defenses on your behalf to help you avoid a homicide conviction. You have a constitutional right to a presumption of innocence and the government bears the burden of proving you’re guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Trial attorney, Jay Mykytiuk, while never guaranteeing the outcome of a case, can guarantee that he will fight hard on your behalf to ensure that your liberty is protected. If you or someone you know has been arrested for a DC Homicide, contact attorney Jay Mykytiuk immediately for a full consultation.