First-Degree Murder vs. Second-Degree Murder

Posted by Jarrett P. AmbeauMar 24, 20210 Comments

What Does a First-Degree Murder Charge Mean?

A first-degree murder in Louisiana refers to the killing of a human being with the specific intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm, under certain enumerated circumstances - the facts of the killing make all the difference. The killing, in order to be first-degree, must have been done during the commission of the crimes listed in the statute, La. R.S. 14:30, or under certain circumstances listed below. It is the most serious of all homicide offenses in Louisiana. First-degree murder is punishable by death or a sentence of life in prison at hard labor without the benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence in accordance with the determination of the jury.

The State does not have to seek the death penalty in a first-degree murder prosecution. 

The State must prove certain facts in order to be convicted of first-degree murder. The killing of a human being, with the specific intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm, in the following circumstances:

  • While engaged in another crime listed:

In order to be charged with first-degree murder, it must be proven that the offender was engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of aggravated kidnapping, second-degree kidnapping, aggravated escape, aggravated arson, aggravated rape, forcible rape, aggravated burglary, armed robbery, assault by drive-by shooting, first-degree robbery, second-degree robbery, simple robbery, terrorism, cruelty to juveniles, or second-degree cruelty to juveniles.

  • Specific public persons

In order to be charged with first-degree murder, it must be proven that the offender killed or inflicted great bodily harm upon a fireman, peace officer, or civilian employee of the Louisiana State Police Crime Laboratory or any other forensic laboratory engaged in the performance of his lawful duties, or when the specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm is directly related to the victim's status as a fireman, peace officer, or civilian employee.

  • Multiple people

The State must prove that the offender has a specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm upon more than one person.

  • Paid for the killing

The State must prove that the offender has specific intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm and has offered, has been offered, has given, or has received anything of value for the killing.

  • Age of the person killed

The State must prove that the offender has the specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm upon a victim who is under the age of twelve or sixty-five years of age or older.

  • While engaged in a drug crime

The State must prove that the offender has the specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm while engaged in the distribution, exchange, sale, or purchase, or any attempt thereof, of a controlled dangerous substance listed in Schedules I, II, III, IV, or V of the Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Law.

  • Killing someone who is the subject of a protective order

The State must prove that the offender has specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm and there has been issued by a judge or magistrate any lawful order prohibiting contact between the offender and the victim in response to threats of physical violence or harm which was served on the offender and is in effect at the time of the homicide.

  • Testimony or witness

The State must prove that the offender has specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm upon a victim who was a witness to a crime or was a member of the immediate family of a witness to a crime committed on a prior occasion and, that he killing was committed for the purpose of preventing or influencing the victim's testimony in any criminal action or proceeding whether or not such action or proceeding had been commenced; or the killing was committed for the purpose of exacting retribution for the victim's prior testimony.

What Does a Second-Degree Murder Charge Mean?

Second-degree murder in Louisiana is the killing of a human being with specific intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm, not under the circumstances above. The State can also choose to charge second-degree murder, even though the conduct would be first-degree murder as stated above.

This is less serious of a charge than first-degree murder, but only because the State cannot ask for the death penalty. Second-degree murder is punishable by life in prison with hard labor and without the benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence in accordance with the determination of the jury. The main difference between the punishment of first-degree murder and second-degree murder is that a conviction for first-degree murder can lead to the death penalty. Louisiana law also deems the following situations worthy of a second-degree murder charge (felony murder):

  • When the offender is engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of aggravated or first-degree rape, forcible or second-degree rape, aggravated arson, aggravated burglary, aggravated kidnapping, second-degree kidnapping, aggravated escape, assault by drive-by shooting, armed robbery, first-degree robbery, second-degree robbery, cruelty to juveniles, simple robbery second-degree cruelty to juveniles, or terrorism, even if the offender had no intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm
  • When the offender illegally distributes or dispenses a controlled dangerous substance listed in Schedules I through V of the Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Law that directly caused the death of the recipient of the substance

If you or someone you know is facing first or second-degree murder charges, it is essential to consult with a skilled criminal defense attorney like Jarrett Ambeau at The Ambeau Law Firm. Call the firm at (225) 330-7009 or contact us online to find out how we can produce the best possible outcome for your case.

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