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New York First Degree Murder Laws

Overview of New York First Degree Murder Laws

Under New York criminal law, murder in the first degree is one of several forms of homicide, or conduct which causes the death of a person. Other forms of homicide include second-degree murder, manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and abortion. Intentional murder is elevated to first-degree murder when, with the intent to cause the death of another person, a defendant causes the death of such person or a third person and any one of twelve aggravating factors is present. A person charged with first-degree murder must be more than 18 years old at the time of commission of the crime.

The aforementioned aggravating factors focus on the identity of the intended victim (police officers, certain peace officers, correctional employees, judges, witnesses), the circumstances in which the murder was committed (while the defendant was serving a life sentence, during the commission of a specified felony ("felony murder"), for hire, accompanied by torture, in furtherance of a terrorist act), or the nature of the killing(s). Applying the definition of first-degree murder to the first of these factors, it follows that a defendant whose intended victim is a police officer engaged in the course of his or her official duties will be guilty of first-degree murder if the defendant kills a civilian bystander instead. However, a defendant who intends to kill a civilian is not guilty of first-degree murder if he or she instead accidentally kills a police officer.

First-degree "felony murder" - the killing of a victim in the course and in furtherance of specified crimes (robbery and certain degrees of burglary, kidnapping, arson, rape, or sexual abuse) or immediate flight therefrom, where the victim was not a participant in the crime - is distinguishable from second-degree felony murder on several fronts. First, first-degree felony murder requires the defendant's intent to kill the victim or another non-participant in the crime; second-degree felony murder requires only the defendant's intent to commit one of the predicate felonies. Second, a person charged with first-degree felony murder must have personally caused the victim's death or commanded another to do so; on the other hand, a person may be guilty of second-degree felony murder as an accomplice of the actual killer. Third, the predicate crimes for first-degree felony murder are more limited in scope than those for second-degree felony murder. Finally, a person may be convicted for first-degree felony murder for an intentional killing either in the course and furtherance of or immediate flight from an attempt to commit second-degree murder.

Defenses to First Degree Murder Charges

  • Extreme emotional disturbance
  • Assisted suicide without the use of duress or deception
  • Mental disease or defect
  • Infancy (for persons under 18 years of age)
  • Self-defense
  • Defense of another person

Penalties and Sentences

Murder in the first degree is a class A-I felony. Section 60.06 of the New York Penal Code sets forth the authorized disposition reserved for first-degree murder offenders, among others. A person so convicted will be subject to one of the following sentences:

  • Death
  • Life imprisonment without parole
  • Imprisonment for a term of 20 to 25 years

Although the statute lists the death penalty as a possible sentence, imposition of the death penalty has been effectively voided by an opinion of New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals, ruling the death penalty statute unconstitutional in light of a defective provision. Thus, the current viable sentences for first-degree murder consist of life imprisonment without parole or a 20 to 25-year term in prison.

New York First Degree Murder Statute

Murder in the First Degree
Penal Code Section 125.27

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

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