Review of The Federal Crime of Murder
The crime of murder is one of the most serious charges you could face and almost always prosecuted by the state in which it occurs. In other words, murders in California are tried by the state criminal courts.
However, under certain specific circumstances, 18 U.S.C.§1111 murder becomes a federal matter, and those cases are tried in federal court by the United States government.
Further, they involve the federal rules of evidence and criminal procedure. If you are found guilty, you could be sentenced to life in federal prison or death.
What difference does it make?
Federal murder cases are frequently high-profile and prosecutors and federal law enforcement agents are under pressure to aggressively investigate and file charges against alleged suspects and bring them to face justice.
Federal murder trials are generally far more complicated than state trials. More importantly, federal crimes usually come with much stiffer penalties, up to and including death. Let's address some common questions:
- what exactly makes a murder a federal murder?
- what kind of charges can you face for federal murder, and
- what are the potential penalties?
Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys are providing more detailed information below.
What Makes a Murder a Federal Murder?
Under 18 U.S.C. 1111, murder is defined as the “unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought.”
Further, murder is a federal crime if it violates federal law or happens while violating federal law.
Sometimes whether or not murder is a federal crime has to do with where it happened. Murders on federal property, for instance, are treated as federal crimes.
Also, bodies of water are considered to be under federal jurisdiction, so a murder at sea automatically becomes a federal matter.
Finally, any murder that involves crossing state lines for the purposes of criminal activity is likely to be placed in the hands of a federal prosecutor.
In other cases, defining murder as “federal” has more to do with the victim. It might seem obvious that killing the President is a federal offense.
Actually, any elected or appointed federal official is protected by federal law. So too are law enforcement officials, like FBI and DEA agents, and their families.
So, in review, federal murder charges can be filed in the following situations:
- murder of the president of the United States, or
- federal judge, or elected officials,
- retaliatory murder of family member of law enforcement,
- civil rights offense involving murder,
- murder committed during bank robbery,
- murder committed at airport or on an airplane,
- murder committed during kidnapping with hostages.
Finally, the U.S. government already designates certain crimes as “federal crimes.”
There are numerous separate offenses that are prosecuted at the federal level, including crimes such as mail fraud, arson, forgery, and bank robbery.
Committing murder in relation to any one of these automatically makes that murder an additional federal offense.
Charges and Penalties for Federal Murder
If the federal government does decide to charge a defendant with murder, they can bring charges in either the first or second degree.
According to 18 U.S.C. 1111, first-degree murder involves premeditation or a murder committed in connection to certain special circumstances.
These circumstances might include treason, arson, burglary, or sexual abuse of a child.
It includes any killing accomplished by poisoning, lying in wait, or any other kind of willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated killing.
A first-degree charge carries with it sentences of either life in federal prison or death.
Second-degree murder is far more loosely defined by the government as virtually any other kind of murder. It is often referred to as “implied malice” killings.
While federal courts have had different standards over time, a second-degree murder is normally thought of as where a defendant kills someone while showing a reckless indifference to the value of human life, or acts that are often called a “depraved heart.”
For a second-degree murder charge, there is no requirement the defendant intended to kill anyone or that they premeditated the killing.
It is usually punishable by twenty-five years to life in federal prison.
How Can I Fight Federal Murder Charges?
If you are facing a charge of federal murder under 18 U.S.C. 1111, you need to quickly retain the best federal criminal defense lawyer who has a record of success and knows how effectively negotiate with prosecutors.
Every case will need to be thoroughly reviewed in order to determine the best strategy to fight the case. There are many potential defenses against federal murder charges.
We might be able to make an argument you were acting in self-defense or defense of another person.
Maybe we could prove you had a reasonable belief you were in imminent danger of being harmed or suffering serious bodily injury and forced to take action.
Further, another defense could include proving the death was accidental. Perhaps you had no intent to harm the victim and did not act in a negligent manner when the killing occurred. Other ways to fight federal murder cases include:
- false accusations,
- mistaken identity,
- insufficient evidence,
- misconduct by law enforcement,
- illegal search and seizure.
If you or a family member in under investigation for, or already indicted for federal murder charges, contact our skilled team of federal criminal lawyers to discuss the case.
We can advise you on the best steps to maximize the chances of a positive outcome in your case. Any murder charge is a serious matter, but federal murder charges can be especially difficult to fight.
Eisner Gorin LLP is a top-ranked criminal defense law firm serving clients in Southern California and throughout the United States.
Our law firm is located at 1999 Avenue of the Stars, 11th Fl., Los Angeles, CA 90067.
Our main office is in the San Fernando Valley at 14401 Sylvan St #112 Van Nuys, CA 91401.
For an initial consultation, you can call our law firm by calling (310) 328-3776 or contact us online.