Federal Murder Charges Defense Lawyer
Defending the Portland, Biddeford, Saco, Augusta and Bangor Regions of Maine
Typically, individual states draft and institute their own criminal laws, which is why something might be legal in Maine, but illegal in New Hampshire. The federal government, however, have a tremendous amount of criminal laws on the books, including prohibitions against drug possession or trafficking, kidnapping, and bank robbery. The federal laws can trump state laws, but only if the federal government has jurisdiction – the power to regulate – the conduct they prohibit. One common way for the federal government to gain jurisdiction is when the prohibited conduct crosses state lines, like drug trafficking often does. This allows the federal government to step in and take control of the situation.
One of the criminal laws that the federal government has passed concerns the crime of murder. This law is slightly different from the law against murder in Maine, and requires special circumstances for the federal government to gain jurisdiction. It also comes with different penalties than Maine's law against murder.
The Federal Law Against Murder
According to federal law, murder “is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought.”
There are several complicated pieces of this law.
First, for it to be murder, a killing had to have been unlawful. There are “lawful” killings, such as when you were defending yourself, and killed your attacker. This is called “self-defense.” If you were charged with a federal murder charge, and it was later found that you were defending yourself when the other person died, then you will not be convicted for the crime.
Second, a death has to be caused “with malice” for it to be a murder, under the federal law. Malice is an intention to do the deed, or an “evil intent.” While this might sound like something out of a fantasy novel, it is a required element that the prosecutor must prove in trial, beyond a reasonable doubt, for you to be convicted of a federal murder charge. Prosecutors can show malice by either pointing to expressed threats to kill someone, or by using implications, such as arguing that circumstances surrounding the crime showed that you intended to kill the other person, wanted to kill them, and then did it.
Third, the federal law against murder mentions what it calls “aforethought.” Like malice, this is another old word that has stuck around for too long, and could be easily replaced with other, more modern words. If you planned out, or premeditated, the killing, then you had the necessary “aforethought” to be convicted for first degree murder under the federal law.
Not having “aforethought,” however, does not mean that you can't be convicted on a federal murder charge. There are two degrees of murder under the federal law. First degree murder requires that the prosecutor shows that you had this “malice aforethought.” Second degree murder, however, does not require this – you can be convicted on a second degree federal murder charge, even if you did not have “malice aforethought,” and did not plan out the killing.
These are all elements that the prosecutor has to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Because of the complexity of each piece of the law, and the amount of evidence needed to meet the burden of proof, experienced criminal defense attorneys like William T. Bly are able to weaken the prosecution's case, to help protect you from unjust charges.
Jurisdiction for Federal Murder Charges
Federal murder charges are relatively rare, simply because of the limited number of circumstances where the federal government has the authority, or jurisdiction, to intervene and file charges.
Federal jurisdiction can arise from three different facts:
- The identity of either party involved,
- Occurrence of another federal offense.
The identity of the parties can result in federal jurisdiction if the deceased person was a prominent member of the federal government, like the President, or a Congressman, or a foreign official, or if the deceased person died while engaged in, or because of, his or her official duties.
Location can also result in federal jurisdiction, and therefore a charge for federal murder. Deaths that occur on federal property, or in another country, when both parties are American, can be prosecuted by the federal government. Additionally, travelling over state lines to kill someone will give the federal government jurisdiction.
Finally, federal jurisdiction for a murder charge can occur if the death happened during another federal crime, like federal drug trafficking, or a bank robbery.
There's a big difference between federal and state charges. Not only are the crimes and penalties more severe, and the court that hears the case more imposing, but the prosecutors are much stricter, and have access to more resources for investigating the crime.
Federal murder charges are probably the most serious criminal charge that you can face. If you are convicted of first degree murder, you can face the death penalty, or will be imprisoned on a life sentence. A second degree murder charge can result in a lifetime sentence, as well.
According to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, a first degree murder conviction has a “base offense level” of 43 – the most serious offense level possible. This means that, regardless of your prior criminal history, you would face life in prison, under the Guidelines' Sentencing Table. A second degree murder conviction comes with a “base offense level” of 38. Depending on your criminal history, you could face a minimum of 235 months in jail – nearly twenty years – and up to a life sentence.
These “base offense levels” can also rise, depending on other circumstances surrounding the offense. Further, while these Guidelines are supposed to be just that - guidelines - judges are expected to comply with them.
Federal murder charges are probably the most serious accusations that you will ever face. If you do get accused for federal murder, the goal is to keep them as a mere accusation, and not let them turn into a conviction.
The best way to do this is to hire the best criminal defense attorney that you can. Call the law office of William T. Bly if you find yourself facing a charge of federal murder: (207) 571-8146.