Murder in the First Degree

In New York, as in every other state, there are no more serious criminal offenses than those involving the taking of another human being’s life. There are a wide range of separate murder and manslaughter charges which New York prosecutors will aggressively pursue, and even the “least” serious of these charges can result in a lengthy prison sentence upon conviction. But if you are facing a charge of murder in the first degree, you are facing the harshest possible consequences available for any crime in the Empire State, including spending the rest of your natural life behind bars.

What Makes a Homicide First-Degree Murder?

Murder in the first degree is a class A-1 felony in the state of New York. Like second-degree murder, a charge of murder in the first degree involves an intentional killing. What elevates a murder charge from second degree to first degree is the presence of any one of a number of aggravating factors set forth in New York Penal Law §125.27. Many of those factors involve the identity of the victim. An intentional killing will be charged as first degree murder in New York if the victim was a:

  • Police officer
  • Peace officer
  • Emergency or first responder, including a firefighter, emergency medical technician, ambulance driver, paramedic, physician or registered nurse
  • Employee of a state correctional institution or former employee of a local correctional facility

For a homicide involving any of the foregoing victims, first-degree murder will be charged if they were engaged in the performance of their official duties at the time of the killing and the accused knew or reasonably should have known that the intended victim was an individual in one of those identified roles.

Additional circumstances which can result in a charge and conviction for murder in the first degree include:

  • The victim was a witness to the crime or the victim was an immediate family member of a witness to a crime committed on a prior occasion and the killing was committed for the purpose of preventing or influencing the testimony of such witness;
  • The victim was a judge;
  • The defendant was serving a life sentence at the time of the killing;
  • The killing occurred during the commission of another felony;
  • The killing was by contract;
  • The killing involved torture;
  • The killing involved an act of terrorism.

If you are charged with murder in the first degree, you are facing consequences which include life imprisonment without parole.

Are There Defenses to First-Degree Murder?

New York penal law provides a limited number of “affirmative defenses” for defendants accused of murder in the first degree.  However, utilizing an affirmative defense can be a difficult matter than should only be undertaken after consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney. 

Whether you are utilizing an affirmative defense or mounting a defense by claiming the defendant did not commit a murder, you need a skilled and aggressive criminal defense attorney with extensive experience against first-degree murder charges.  If you have been charged with first-degree murder in New York, it is imperative that you speak with an experienced and knowledgeable attorney as soon as possible. If you are being prosecuted for a homicide or other violent crime, call (718) 852-6763 to speak with one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys now. Your future and your freedom could depend on it.

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