The most serious crimes in New York state law are classified as Class A-I felonies; one of these Class A-I felonies is Murder in the First Degree, Penal Law Section 125.27. The majority of homicides in New York are prosecuted pursuant to Penal Law Section 125.25 (Murder in the Second Degree). However, especially violent and terrible murders – those murders that involve “aggravating factors” – are prosecuted as first-degree murders. The penalty for a conviction for Murder in the First Degree includes, potentially, life without the possibility of parole. (The minimum possible sentence is from 20 years to life.)
Recently, a nanny accused of murdering two children under her care, Yoselyn Ortega, was indicted for Murder in the First Degree. The basis for the first-degree charge comes from 125.27(1)(a)(xi): “the defendant intentionally caused the death of two or more additional persons within the state in separate criminal transactions within a period of twenty-four months when committed in a similar fashion or pursuant to a common scheme or plan.”
Basically, a person is guilty of Murder in the First Degree when they commit Murder in the Second Degree – the intentional killing of another person, but do so with an “aggravating factor”. In addition to the factor applied to Ms. Ortega’s case, other aggravating factors for first-degree charges include:
(i)-(iii) the murder of a police officer, peace officer, or correctional officer while performing his lawful duties;
(iv) the defendant was sentenced to life for another crime or awaiting a life sentence for another crime;
(v) the murder of a witness or the family member of a witness;
(vi) murder for hire;
(vii) “felony-murder,” meaning that the defendant killed someone in the course of committing some other violent felony such as robbery, rape, or burglary;
(viii) the defendant commits a murder but also kills another person that the defendant intended to injure
(ix) the defendant has a prior conviction for murder
(x) a torture-murder;
(xii) the victim was a judge and was targeted because he was a judge;
(xiii) a murder as an act of terrorism.
These cases are exceedingly serious and can oftentimes be very complex. If you or a loved one have been charged with Murder in the First Degree, you should strongly consider retaining a team of experienced criminal defense attorneys immediately.