Federal murder cases are some of the most obviously serious cases in American criminal law. Under some circumstances, federal murder charges can involve the death penalty (even in states where the death penalty is illegal at the state level).
The most common two murder charges at the federal level are contained in 18 U.S.C. § 1111 and § 1117. The former describes federal murder as being the unlawful and killing of another human being with “malice aforethought.” Spur-of-the-moment killings thus might be charged as manslaughter instead, though “malice aforethought” does not require more than a moment’s reflection on the part of the actor. The charge is broken down into two degrees: first and second degree murder.
First degree murder involves those intentional killings perpetrated by “poison, lying in wait, any other kind of willful, deliberate, malicious and premeditated killing; or committed in the perpetration of, or attempt to perpetrate, any arson, escape, murder, kidnapping, treason, espionage, sabotage, aggravated sexual abuse or sexual abuse, child abuse, burglary, or robbery; or perpetrated as part of a pattern or practice of assault or torture against a child or children; or perpetrated from a premeditated design unlawfully and maliciously to effect the death of any human being other than him who is killed…” First degree murder is punishable by death or life in prison.
All other murders with malice aforethought are considered murder in the second degree, which carries either a life sentence or “any term of years” in prison.
18 USC § 1117 applies to conspiracies to commit murder. Specifically, “if two or more persons conspire to violate §1111… and one or more such persons do any overt act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be punished by imprisonment for any term of years or life.”
Thus, the mere agreement to commit a murder, plus some action in furtherance of the plot, can land both parties in prison for life. Frequency, these cases are brought when one of the conspirators tells law enforcement, or when the discussion is overheard on a law enforcement wiretap. “Overt acts” can be as simple as looking for the intended target or acquiring a weapon to use.
Keep in mind however that multiple people can be charged with murder via §1111 by assisting the actual killer. Providing knowing and intentional assistance to someone who is about to commit a federal murder can get one arrested and convicted of the same crime. A good defense attorney may be able to cast doubt on the co-conspirator’s role in a §1111 murder, however.
If you or a loved one have been charged with a federal homicide charge, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney representing you. Matthew Galluzzo has successfully defended numerous individuals accused of homicide at the state and federal level, and he is an experienced federal criminal defense attorney who was selected to be on the Criminal Justice Act panels for both of the federal courts in New York City (the Southern and Eastern District of New York). Give him a call to schedule a case evaluation and you will receive a fair quote for his services.