First degree murder is the most serious crime of homicide in Illinois. It is charged for the most egregious acts that result in another person’s death – often with prior contemplation, design, and preparation.
Many homicides may be elevated to a charge of murder in the First Degree if the victim is a member of a special class, if the act was particularly gruesome, or if the accused was believed to have a certain motive in committing the act. If you have been charged with First Degree murder in Illinois you may be able to present a defense to defeat the murder charges altogether, or to reduce the charges against you.
First Degree Murder in Illinois
In Illinois, first degree murder is codified in ILCS 5/9-1. If charged with first degree murder in Illinois, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused killed another person without lawful justification and either:
- intended to kill or do great bodily harm to that individual or another, or knew that such acts would cause death to that individual or another; or
- knew that such acts created a strong probability of death or great bodily harm to that individual or another.
A person may also be charged with first degree murder if he or she killed another person without lawful justification while they were attempting to or committing a forcible felony other than 2nd degree murder. Forcible felonies in Illinois include:
- Predatory criminal sexual assault of a child;
- Criminal sexual assault or aggravated criminal sexual assault;
- Arson or aggravated arson;
- Kidnapping or aggravated kidnapping;
- Aggravated battery resulting great bodily harm, disability, or disfigurement; or
- Any other felony involving the use of threat, physical force, or violence against another.
Penalties for First Degree Murder in Illinois
First degree murder is the most serious homicide in Illinois. As a result, convictions carry the greatest terms of imprisonment. The minimum prison sentence for a conviction of first degree murder in Illinois is 20 years. Illinois does not utilize the death penalty, so the maximum punishment for first degree murder is a term of life in prison.
The specific term of imprisonment will depend on the facts and circumstances specific to each individual case. There are a number of aggravating and mitigating factors the court will weigh in determining an appropriate sentence.
Aggravating factors are those which will cause the criminal offense to be more serious. These often trigger lengthier terms of imprisonment and harsher penalties. A charge of first degree murder may be aggravated if the victim was:
- A law enforcement officer, firefighter, emergency medical responder, teacher on school grounds, or disabled;
- A Department of Corrections officer killed in the line of duty or in retaliation;
- An inmate and killed in prison;
- Killed in the course of committing another crime;
- Either 12 or younger or 60 or older and subject to brutal or heinous cruelty; or
- Subject to a protective order from the defendant.
A charge of first degree murder may also be aggravated if the killing was:
- The result of a hijacking;
- Pursuant to an act of terrorism;
- Done on a contract;
- Done to prevent the victim from investigating a crime; or
- A drive-by shooting.
If the defendant has been convicted of first degree murder of two or more other people or employed torture prior to the killing the charges may also be aggravated.
Mitigating factors are those that reduce the culpability of the crime. Many times they reflect a diminished mental state and capacity for understanding the acts that led to the killing. Mitigating factors, if considered by the court, may reduce penalties imposed for convictions of first degree murder in Illinois. Mitigating factors include:
- Lack of prior criminal history;
- Extreme emotional or mental disturbance;
- Acting under threat or duress;
- The victim was a willing participant in the activity that caused his or her death;
- History of mental or physical abuse; and
- Reduced mental capacity.
Defenses to First Degree Murder in Illinois
If you or someone you know has been charged with first degree murder in Illinois you should contact an experienced Chicago first degree murder defense attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can help to devise a legal strategy to refute the charges against you. Defenses to first degree murder in Illinois may include:
- Lack of required intent;
- Lack of required knowledge;
- Self-defense; or
- Violation of Constitutional rights.
An attorney can review your case, determine which defense is most appropriate, and ensure your rights are not violated.
About the Author:
Gus Kostopoulos is a former prosecutor and found of Kostopoulos Law Group. He handles all criminal matters including DUI, drug crimes, domestic violence, theft crimes, sex crimes, and white collar crimes.