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Sentencing of First-Degree Murder

Posted on November 18th, 2018 by Oddo & Babat, P.C.

Criminal Defense Lawyer

Although the sentencing and punishment varies from state to state, first-degree murder usually draws the most severe sentencing. For example, in Florida, if you are convicted of first-degree murder, you will receive either life in prison without parole or the death penalty. Across the coast in California, though, the laws are not as strict. California offers what is called a “two tired sentencing structure”. The first tier is a range of years you will serve in prison, with the highest being life in prison. The second tier is life in prison without parole or the death penalty. When the case is being tried, the prosecutor might try to prove certain aggravating factors, as outlined below.

The factors below are used to determine exactly how severe of a sentence one might get for first-degree murder. These factors will include elements relating to the defendant, the victim(s), or the crime itself, which will cement the evidence for life in prison without parole or the death penalty.

Aggravating Factors

  • The victim was a member of law enforcement on duty
  • The victim was a member of the court of law, such as a judge, a prosecutor, a juror, or a witness who was murdered to stop them from performing their duties
  • The victim was poisoned
  • The defendant has other murder convictions
  • The murder involved torture or was particularly gruesome
  • The defendant waited to ambush the victim
  • The defendant was a part of a gang in the murder happened as a result of a gang-related activity
  • There were bombs or other explosive materials used in the murder

Unfortunately, the above list of aggravating factors is not fully comprehensive, but they do outline several items that a jury might look for when determining the sentencing of first-degree murder.

Because there are so many factors that go into a murder case, there are different possibilities in terms of sentencing. No one murder case is exactly like another, which is why a jury must take extreme care to look over all the facts and evidence provided. So, what are the potential sentences for first-degree murder?

  • Prison Sentence. If the defendant is convicted without any aggravating factors (like the ones outlined above), they can receive a range of different prison sentences, including life in prison and a host of any numbers of years to life (California, for example, has 25 years to life as an option). The exact sentencing will depend on which state you live in.
  • Life without possibility of parole. Some states do not enforce the death penalty, and if you are charged with first-degree murder along with aggravating factors, you will typically get life in prison without parole.
  • The death penalty. Many states still uphold the death penalty as a punishment for those who have been convicted of the highest level of first-degree murder. For example, in Texas, if you are convicted of capital murder, they will always charge the death penalty.

As seen above, there are many possibilities that can result from a first-degree murder charge, and while they vary from state to state, any charge you receive will be severe and life-changing. If you have any questions regarding first-degree murder, or if you have been charged with first-degree murder, you will need a criminal defense attorney San Francisco, CA trusts who can answer your questions and present a strong case on your behalf.



Thank you to our friends and contributors at The Morales Law Firm, for their insight into criminal defense and murder.

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