Aug 3, 2023

How does Missouri treat first-degree murder?

Violent Crimes

First-degree murder is a class A felony in Missouri, for which the penalty upon conviction can be either death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole or probation.

The only exception to the death penalty is if the defendant was under 18 years old at the time he or she committed the murder. Under Missouri law, a minor cannot be put to death for his or her crimes.

Section 565.020 of the Missouri Revised Statutes defines first-degree murder as intentionally and deliberately causing someone’s death for no legally justifiable reason after thinking about doing so.

Possible defenses

Individuals facing this most serious of homicide charges do have available defenses. Complete defenses that could lead to an acquittal include such things as actual innocence, lack of intent or lack of knowledge of the crime.

Partial defenses, called mitigating circumstances, that could lead to receiving a conviction for a lesser included crime such as manslaughter, include the following:

  • That the individual acted under extreme duress or someone else’s control
  • That the person lacked the capacity to understand the law or appreciate the seriousness of the action, i.e., the insanity defense
  • That the deceased consented to the individual’s actions or participated in them

Aggravated circumstances

On the other hand, the prosecutor can present evidence of aggravating circumstances, such as the following, at the sentencing hearing that could raise the individual’s sentence from life imprisonment to death:

  • That the deceased was an elected official, judge, prosecutor, police officer or fireman acting in the line of duty at the time of the death, or a corrections officer or inmate
  • That the death occurred while committing another serious crime, such as rape, sodomy, kidnapping, robbery or burglary
  • That the death was part of a “criminal street gang activity”

Even if a jury does not convict the individual facing the charges, the family of the deceased may be able to sue for wrongful death.