First Degree Murder (20 years-Life IDOC)
Second Degree Murder (Formerly Known as Voluntary Manslaughter) (4-20 years IDOC)
Involuntary Manslaughter (3-14 Years IDOC)
FIRST DEGREE MURDER
The most serious crime that an individual can be charged with in Illinois is the Crime of First Degree Murder. Murder is an extremely complex charge that requires a detailed and comprehensive analysis by an experienced criminal defense attorney. First Degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1) is defined as:
(a) A person who kills an individual without lawful justification commits first degree murder if, in performing the acts which cause the death:
(1) he either intends to kill or do great bodily harm to that individual or another, or knows that such acts will cause death to that individual or another; or
(2) he knows that such acts create a strong probability of death or great bodily harm to that individual or another; or
(3) he is attempting or committing a forcible felony other than second degree murder.
First Degree Murder is typically punishable from 20-60 Years in the Penitentiary. However, there are multiple instances that warrant extended sentencing parameters.
One aspect is that if the trier of fact (Judge or Jury) makes a finding at trial that the defendant committed the murder and it was accompanied by exceptionally brutal or heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty. Meaning that the manner the murder was committed involved the use of torture or the brutality of the murder itself. This results in a sentence from 20 years up to natural life imprisonment.
Another aspect is if the trier of fact (Judge or Jury) makes a finding at trial that the defendant committed the murder with the use of firearm that resulted in either great bodily harm or death of the decedent. This results in a sentence enhancement of 25 years to natural life imprisonment added on to the 20-year mandatory minimum of 20 years. Thus, this leaves the accused with a sentencing exposure of a mandatory minimum sentence of 45 years up to a sentence of natural life imprisonment.
Additionally, a person charged with first degree murder can face a mandatory sentence of natural life imprisonment if various factors are present. Some notable factors are:
- If there are two or more victims
- If the victim was a police officer
- If the victim was under 12 years old
- If the accused has a prior conviction for 1st degree murder.
Regardless of any type of sentencing enhancement, an individual convicted of first degree murder must serve 100% of their sentence not eligible for good time. The Death Penalty was once a potential sentence to any convicted of first degree murder in Illinois. However, in 2012, the death penalty was abolished
Developing a theory of defense and strategies to a charge of first degree murder is also a complex aspect that requires the experience of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Some defenses that can be asserted are:
- Self Defense
- A theory of defense that must show that the defendant was justified in committing the homicide. In Illinois, a theory of self-defense must establish that A person is justified in using force if the person reasonably believes that the force is necessary to protect himself/herself or another person against another’s use of unlawful force. (720 ILCS 5/7-1).
- Witness Misidentification
- A theory of defense that focuses upon challenging eyewitness accounts and surrounding circumstances of their identifications of the defendant as the person who committed the murder. This theory can also be presented by the use of a Witness Identification Expert.
- Alternative perpetrator
- A theory of defense where the accused case may offer evidence showing that someone else committed the murder.
SECOND DEGREE MURDER
Additionally, another strategy to help mitigate the situation would be to argue that the accused may be guilty of the lesser offenses of second degree murder or involuntary manslaughter. Second Degree Murder (720 ILCS 5/9-2) is defined as:
A person commits the offense of second degree murder when he or she commits the offense of first degree murder as defined in paragraph (1) or (2) of subsection (a) of Section 9-1 of this Code and either of the following mitigating factors are present:
(1) at the time of the killing he or she is acting under a sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation by the individual killed or another whom the offender endeavors to kill, but he or she negligently or accidentally causes the death of the individual killed; or
(2) at the time of the killing he or she believes the circumstances to be such that, if they existed, would justify or exonerate the killing under the principles stated in Article 7 of this Code, but his or her belief is unreasonable.
In this case, the accused would be considered guilty of first degree murder but one of the two above mitigating factors were present which reduce the conviction of first degree murder to second degree murder. This was once known as Voluntary Manslaughter in Illinois but the legislature reclassified the offense as Second Degree Murder.
The classic example of acting under a sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation would be when the accused walks in on his spouse engaged in sexual intercourse with another person and commits the killing immediately after witnessing that act.
The classic example of unreasonable belief that circumstances existed that would justify or exonerate the killing would be what people may believe is “imperfect self-defense.” This situation was most recently seen in the highly publicized case of Jason Van Dyke where the jury found him guilty of Second Degree Murder of Laquan McDonald. The jury found that he believed he needed to defend himself but his belief was unreasonable.
Involuntary Manslaughter (720 ILCS 5/9-3) is defined as:
(a) A person who unintentionally kills an individual without lawful justification commits involuntary manslaughter if his acts whether lawful or unlawful which cause the death are such as are likely to cause death or great bodily harm to some individual, and he performs them recklessly
An example of involuntary manslaughter would be when some pushes someone into a lake as a joke but the person can’t swim and ends up drowning as a result.
As illustrated, it is important for an individual to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who has represented persons charged with murder. Murder is an extremely serious and complex charge that contains many nuances on multiple levels from charging to defenses at trial to sentencing.