If you are currently facing a murder charge, you are probably fearful about your future. Will you be able to defend yourself in court successfully? What are the penalties for this type of crime? 

In Missouri, laws distinguish between first-degree and second-degree murder. Defendants must understand the charges against them so they can seek effective counsel. 

Second-degree murder 

To convict a person for seconddegree murder, the prosecution must show that the individual killed someone without legal justification (self-defense, for example). This includes causing injuries that lead to a person’s death, killing a person while in the act of committing a different felony offense or purposely killing another person. 

Missouri punishes second-degree murder with a minimum of 10 years in prison up to a life sentence. If the offender committed murder while committing a different felony, the sentences will run separately, resulting in a longer prison term. 

First-degree murder 

With first-degree murder charges, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant acted after deliberation. Unlike a second-degree murder, which can occur during a fight or in the heat of the moment, a first-degree murder is one the person planned.  

Missouri law punishes certain first-degree murders with the death penalty. This includes crimes involving torture, a mass weapon such as a bomb, murder for hire, to avoid arrest or while committing another felony offense. The judge can also order the death penalty if the murdered individual was a judge, elected official, corrections officer, inmate or witness to a criminal investigation. This also applies in cases in which the person committed murder while escaping prison or has prior assault or murder convictions. 

Despite the severity of these charges, individuals charged with murder have the right to a legal defense. Depending on the facts of your case, your attorney may argue that you acted while intoxicated, did not intend to commit murder, did not commit the crime or were acting in self-defense.