Murder / Homicide Charges
Murder is one of the most serious criminal charges you can face in California, and even more serious than a state murder charge is a federal murder charge, punishable by a term of life in federal prison or the death penalty. The federal government has extensive resources at its disposal to investigate, charge and prosecute homicides that violate federal law and an arrest or indictment for federal murder is quite literally a matter of life and death.
Federal murder cases often involve killings that are related to federal drug crimes, such as drug trafficking or drug smuggling, but they can also involve any killing committed during the course of a felony, such as kidnapping, arson or bank robbery, or any other killing that violates federal law. Federal homicide is an extremely serious criminal charge, punishable by life in prison or the death penalty in the most serious cases. If you are facing federal murder or manslaughter charges, your entire future is at stake and there is no time to waste. Schedule a free, confidential consultation with our skilled criminal defense attorneys today by calling Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers.
The term “homicide” is used to describe the unlawful killing of one person by another. In the United States, there is a hierarchy of criminal acts that are known collectively as homicide. First-degree murder is the most serious type of homicide, followed by second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter, in order of seriousness.
Federal Murder Defined
The main statute that covers federal murder crimes in the United States is 18 U.S.C. § 1111, which defines murder as “the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought.” The statute recognizes two categories of murder, which differ in terms of severity: murder in the first degree and murder in the second degree. According to the law, first-degree murder is any murder “perpetrated by poison, lying in wait, or 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.” Every other kind of murder is considered second-degree murder.
Penalties for Federal Murder Charges
Federal murder is one of the most serious crimes you can be accused of committing in the United States and the punishment for federal murder is unsurprisingly severe. Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1111, murder in the first degree is punishable by death or a life sentence in federal prison, while murder in the second degree is punishable by imprisonment in federal prison for any term of years or for life.
Federal Manslaughter Defined
Compared to murder, manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice, or the intention or desire to do evil (ill will). There are two kinds of manslaughter (18 U.S.C. § 1112) recognized by federal law:
• Voluntary manslaughter – “Upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.”
• Involuntary manslaughter – “In the commission of an unlawful act not amounting to a felony, or in the commission in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection, of a lawful act which might produce death.”
Penalties for Federal Manslaughter Charges
Voluntary manslaughter is a federal crime punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment for up to 15 years in federal prison. Involuntary manslaughter is punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment for up to eight years in federal prison.
Attempt to Commit Murder or Manslaughter
There is another statute that sets forth the appropriate punishment for any attempt to commit murder or manslaughter in violation of federal law (18 U.S.C. § 1113). Under this law, any person who, “within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States,” attempts to commit murder, is subject to a fine and/or a term of imprisonment of no more than 20 years. Any person who attempts to commit manslaughter is subject to a fine and/or a term of imprisonment of no more than seven years.
What is Considered Federal Murder or Homicide?
The majority of murder and homicide cases in California involve violations of state law and are handled by the state courts. However, there are some specific circumstances in which a murder or homicide case can be tried in federal court. For instance, the federal government has jurisdiction over murder and homicide cases that take place on federal property, as well as cases that involve a federal agency or federal official, and those that violate federal law or the Constitution.
Any person arrested by federal agents or accused of using a federal agency, such as the U.S. Postal Service, to commit a murder or homicide can also be charged with a federal crime. In some cases, federal charges will be brought if the crime in question is particularly egregious or if the defendant has a significant criminal history. The following are some examples of cases involving a murder or homicide that can be charged as a federal offense:
• Murder, Manslaughter or Attempted Murder or Manslaughter Against Any Officer or Employee of the U.S. – 18 U.S.C. § 1114
• Misconduct or Neglect of Ship Officers Resulting in Homicide – 18 U.S.C. § 1115
• Murder or Manslaughter of Foreign Officials, Official Guests or Internationally Protected Persons – 18 U.S.C. § 1116
• Conspiracy to Murder – 18 U.S.C. § 1117
• Murder by a Federal Prisoner – 18 U.S.C. § 1118
• Foreign Murder of United States Nationals – 18 U.S.C. § 1119
• Murder by Escaped Prisoners – 18 U.S.C. § 1120
• Killing Persons Aiding Federal Investigations or State Correctional Officers – 18 U.S.C. § 1121
• Killing Committed During a Bank Robbery – 18 U.S.C. § 1111
• Drug-Related Drive-by Shooting – 18 U.S.C. § 36
• Murder by Mail – 18 U.S.C. § 1716
• Murder-for-Hire – 18 U.S.C. § 1958
• Murder of an Elected/Appointed Federal Official – 18 U.S.C. §§ 351, 1751
• A Killing Intended to Influence the Outcome of a Court Case – 18 U.S.C. § 1512
• Killing of an Immediate Family Member of a Law Enforcement Official – 18 U.S.C. § 115
• Murder Aboard a Ship – 18 U.S.C. § 2280
Why You Need to Hire a Federal Murder Defense Attorney
Federal murder/homicide cases are prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys, who tend to be tough on criminal defendants, and any federal agency involved in investigating the case, such as the FBI or DEA, will appear in federal court to provide testimony, which can be particularly damaging to the defendant’s defense.
The penalties resulting from a conviction in a federal homicide case can also be more severe than those associated with state homicide charges, which is one of the main reasons we recommend speaking to an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer when faced with allegations of federal murder or homicide. Choosing the right defense attorney can mean the difference between a punishment of death or imprisonment for life and walking away with your freedom intact. A good criminal defense lawyer may be able to successfully challenge a federal murder charge using one or more of the following legal defenses:
• Self-defense – You committed the killing in self-defense or in defense of others due to a reasonable belief that you or they were in imminent danger of physical harm.
• Accidental killing – You had no criminal intent to do harm, you were engaged in lawful conduct at the time the killing took place, and you were not acting negligently.
• Insanity – You were legally insane at the time the killing occurred.
• Illegal search and seizure – The evidence against you was obtained during an illegal search of your person or property.
• Mistaken identity – You have been mistakenly identified as the perpetrator of a murder crime.
• Lesser charges – The killing amounted to a lesser form of homicide, such as voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter.
Introducing evidence and testimony that suggests a version of events in contradiction to the prosecution’s evidence could lead to a plea bargain, a conviction on a lesser charge with a lighter sentence, or even a finding of not guilty.
Our Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers Can Help
If you are accused of committing a murder or homicide in violation of federal law, you could end up facing charges for federal murder, a charge that carries a lengthy term of imprisonment, possibly for life, or even the death penalty. Even an attempt to commit murder can land you in federal prison for 20 years if you are convicted in federal court.
As you can see, a federal murder or manslaughter charge is an extremely serious matter, one that requires the skill and expertise of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney with a proven history of success defending clients in federal court. The defense team at Federal Defense Lawyers understands how devastating the consequences of a federal murder or manslaughter conviction would be for you and your loved ones, and when you hire our firm, our criminal defense lawyers will work tirelessly to ensure that you get the most effective defense possible.