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Illinois First Degree Murder Laws

Overview of Illinois First Degree Murder Laws

First degree murder is the most serious of the homicide crimes in Illinois. In order to prove that the defendant committed first degree murder, the prosecutor must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant killed an individual without lawful justification and either:

  • Intended to kill or do great bodily harm to that individual (or knew that the act would do so); or
  • Knows that the acts create a strong probability of causing death or great bodily harm to the individual; or
  • The defendant was attempting or committed a forcible felony other than second degree murder (i.e. rape).

Illinois first degree murder laws treat the offense as a very serious crime. The penalties involved are justified based on who the victim was and the circumstances surrounding the defendant's commission of the crime. Oftentimes for such cases, the court will request a separate sentencing hearing where they can consider aggravating and mitigating factors that can help determine what the appropriate penalties should be based on the individual circumstances of each crime.

Defenses to First Degree Murder Charges

  • Lack of intent
  • Lack of knowledge
  • Insanity
  • Intoxication
  • Self-defense

NOTE: If none of the criteria are met for first degree murder, the defendant may still be found guilty of a lesser murder charge.

See First Degree Murder Defenses for more information.

Penalties and Sentences

Illinois is no longer a death penalty state, and thus, a defendant may not be sentenced to death if he/she is found guilty of first degree murder. Instead, a life sentence is the maximum punishment in the state.

Prior to 2011 (when the death penalty was repealed in Illinois), punishment in a capital murder case would be determined at a sentencing hearing held at the request of the court. At such a sentencing hearing, the judge would hear evidence on both aggravating and mitigating factors involved in the crime and would issue a penalty or sentence dependent on those factors. Some aggravating factors included things like the victim's age (being either a child or an elderly person over 60), the victim being a corrections officer, or torture being involved, to name a few. Some mitigating factors included things such as the defendant being insane or mentally ill, the defendant being intoxicated, or the defendant not being personally present during the act that caused the victim's death.

At a sentencing hearing for capital punishment, a jury would have to unanimously agree that the death penalty should be recommended after they weighed all aggravating and mitigating factors in order for the court to sentence the defendant to death. Even if the jury recommended the death penalty, the court could overturn this and give a written explanation as to why the court felt it could not recommend death in a case. This written statement could be used in an appeal but otherwise, the court would be bound by the jury's determination. If there was not a unanimous decision on the death penalty by the jury, the court would sentence the defendant to a term of imprisonment appropriate under the given circumstances of the case.

See First Degree Murder Penalties and Sentencing for more details.

Illinois First Degree Murder Laws: Statute

First Degree Murder - Criminal Code of 1961, Article 9, Sections 9-1

Note: State laws are constantly changing -- please contact an Illinois criminal defense attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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