Murder Charges: Ya…It’s as Bad as it Sounds…Without Help
It’s not surprising that murder cases always get the headlines. There can be little doubt that the taking of a human life is a heinous criminal act, but not all murder cases are created equal. A range of penalties are available at the state and federal level to punish convicted murderers in keeping with the distinctive elements and circumstances surrounding a murder prosecution.
State and federal guidelines provide a variety of options for judging and sentencing the defendant in a murder case. The most serious charge of first degree murder, referred to as capital murder in the state of Texas, can result in life in prison or the death penalty. Even if a capital murder defendant escapes the death penalty, a sentence of life in prison may preclude the possibility of parole. These severe penalties are typically reserved for murder cases that include specific aggravating factors.
Aggravating factors related to the defendant or victim often lead a prosecutor to recommend a harsh sentence. According to the Texas Penal Code , possible aggravating factors include the following:
- The defendant was previously convicted of one or more murders
- The alleged murder occurred while perpetrating another serious crime such as rape or arson
- The murder victim was a law enforcement officer killed while on duty
- The victim was a witness, juror, judge or prosecutor that was killed to prevent them from carrying out their official duties
- The alleged murder involved torture or was otherwise particularly heinous
- The victim was ambushed by the defendant
- The victim was poisoned by the defendant
- The defendant used bombs or explosives to kill the victim
- The defendant was a gang member and killed the victim as part of a gang activity
Murder Charge Sentencing Phase
In murder cases that do not involve aggravating factors, a convicted murderer can be sentenced to a range of punishment options, including a life sentence with the possibility of eventual parole. Once a jury has determined the guilt of an alleged offender, the next stage of a murder case is the sentencing phase. If the defendant was convicted of second degree murder, for example, the relevant statute will be consulted to determine an appropriate punishment.
The court will consider the aggravating and mitigating factors in a case before sentencing the defendant. For instance, the sentencing guidelines may allow the judge to send a defendant to prison for anywhere from 15 to 25 years in a second degree murder case. Mitigating factors that may be taken into consideration include whether the defendant has accepted responsibility for the crime, the nature of the defendant’s childhood and whether the defendant is subject to any physical or mental illnesses.