The criminal justice system can be confusing for those who go through it for the first time. If you are facing criminal charges for allegedly committing a serious offense, such as first-degree murder, you may want to know what sentences you could possibly receive upon conviction. It can be helpful to know the types of elements that a prosecutor could try to prove in order to increase your potential penalty – as well as the types of elements that you can prove in order to lower it.
Aggravating factors for first-degree murder
The exact aggravating factors that a prosecutor may try to prove depend upon the crime that the prosecutor is charging you with. Under Missouri law, there are several elements that – if proven – can increase punishment for a first-degree murder conviction. These elements include things such as:
- If the defendant has a prior conviction for first-degree murder or for other violent crimes
- If the murder occurred during the commission of another homicide
- If the murder occurred by means of a method or weapon that endangered the lives of multiple people
- If the murder was committed for money
- If the victim of the murder was an officer of the criminal justice system or first responder
In general, the jury in a murder trial has leeway to consider these and other aggravating factors when determining whether the death penalty should be on the table. The jury will also consider mitigating factors – meaning elements that could make the circumstances surrounding the alleged murder less severe or more justified.
Some mitigating factors can be a complete defense, meaning that they can get all charges against you dismissed if you can successfully prove them. For example, self-defense can sometimes be a complete defense, depending on the circumstances.
Other mitigating factors might not defeat all charges against you, but they can reduce the charges to a less severe crime. For example, if the murder was committed when the defendant was intoxicated, they may have lacked the deliberation required for a first-degree murder charge. In these cases, it’s possible that charges could be reduced to second-degree murder or even voluntary manslaughter.
The prospect of going to court to defend yourself against criminal charges can be very scary – especially when the charges are for a serious crime with heavy penalties. With luck, you and your attorney will hopefully be able to put together a strong defense and solid arguments for why the jury should consider the mitigating factors in your case.