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What Is First Degree Murder in Illinois?

Not all forms of homicide are the same. First degree murder is the most serious homicide charge in Illinois and carries a possible life sentence. Lesser forms of homicide in the state include second degree murder as well as manslaughter charges.

Because of the seriousness of first degree murder, prosecutors can only charge someone of the crime in limited circumstances.

How to Prove First Degree Murder

In order to prove that a defendant committed first degree murder, the prosecutor must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant killed an individual without lawful justification and:

  • Intended to kill or inflict great bodily harm to that individual; or
  • Knew that the acts create a strong probability of causing death or great bodily harm to the individual; or
  • Attempted or committed a forcible felony other than second degree murder like rape or burglary.

As you can see, intent is a critical element of first degree murder. The killing act generally must have been premeditated unless it was part of a felony attempt.

Penalties for First Degree Murder

Since Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011, a life sentence is now the ultimate penalty in the state. However, just because someone is convicted of the crime, this does not mean that he will automatically be given a life sentence.

Courts typically will consider aggravating and mitigating factors in the murder as well as the background of the defendant in determining the appropriate penalty. Some factors can include the defendant's prior criminal record, the amount of violence used in the killing, and even any remorsefulness shown.

Defenses to First Degree Murder

Some common defenses to first degree murder can include:

  • Lack of intent
  • Lack of knowledge
  • Insanity
  • Intoxication
  • Self-defense

It goes without saying that a first-degree murder charge is extremely serious. If you have a question about a specific case, you should contact a Chicago criminal defense attorney.

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