Federal Murder Defense Lawyer St. Louis, Missouri. Being charged with homicide is not something anyone wants to go through. While murders in St. Louis are charged under the Missouri state statutes, depending on the nature of the alleged homicide you may also be subjected to federal murder charges. This brings even more difficulties to your case that can range from having to defend yourself from two different jurisdictions to complicating an appeals process.
Needless to say, if you have been charged or are under investigation for murder/homicide, you need a skilled defense attorney who has experience defending freedoms in front of a judge and jury. Combs Law Group helps good people in bad situations. We are nonjudgmental and promise to listen to your side of the story. We know that both state and federal governments zealously pursue murder charges, often without understanding the full picture, and we promise to zealously defend you and your freedom. We’ll do everything in our power to have your charges reduced or dismissed, and will stand by your side at a trial if we have to. Call Combs Law Group today at (314) 900-HELP or contact us online to discuss your situation for free.
When Does Murder in St. Louis Become a Federal Crime?
Not every alleged murder will be charged in a federal court. A murder can be a federal crime depending on who it is carried out against, where the crime occurred and if the murder occurred in the course of another federal crime. Common instances of federal murder include:
Attempted murder can also be a federal crime under 18 U.S. Code § 1113.
Federal Homicide Charges and Sentences
“Homicide” is a term used to describe the unlawful killing of another. Like in St. Louis and throughout Missouri, federal homicide charges fall into four categories: first-degree, second-degree, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. The definitions and penalties of first and second degree murder are laid out in 18 U.S. Code § 1111, and for manslaughter in 18 U.S. Code § 1112.
Murder in the First Degree
Federal law defines first-degree murder as, “the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought.” This includes any premeditated or pre-planned killings, killings in combination with other crimes such as arson, treason, kidnapping, burglary, crimes against children or sex crimes.
If you are found guilty of first-degree federal murder, the punishment is either life imprisonment or death.
Murder in the Second Degree
The US Code defines second-degree murder as, “any other murder.” Typically, that means the murder was intentional but lacked the element of premeditation. People can be charged with this in a variety of circumstances:
- An impulsive killing with malicious intent that was not pre-planned — This can happen in a sudden argument, for instance if a neighbor goes to another neighbor’s house to argue about something, and at one point the first neighbor pulls out a gun and kills the other. The first neighbor intended to kill the other at the moment, but did not plan to beforehand.
- Intent to cause serious bodily harm — This happens when someone does not necessarily intend to kill another, but does so while inflicting great bodily harm they knew could cause death. This could be somebody intentionally hitting someone with a car.
- Depraved indifference to human life — This is where the intent is not to inflict harm, but the accused commits acts they know could cause death or serious harm. An example could be firing a gun indiscriminately out of a moving car.
The sentence for a second-degree murder conviction can be up to life in prison, or any amount of time determined by the court.
These refer to homicides that occurred in the “heat of passion.” The heat of passion argument is used as a defense to malice aforethought, and the federal government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the element of heat of passion did not exist. It means being in a fit of uncontrollable rage, terror or fury. A classic example is someone coming home to find their spouse in bed with someone else, and instantly killing them. To make the heat of passion argument, you must demonstrate that a reasonable person would also have lost self-control.
It is important to note that the “heat of passion” argument is not a defense used to get a “not guilty” verdict. The aim of this defense is to reduce a charge of first- or second-degree murder to manslaughter. The sentence for federal voluntary manslaughter is a fine and/or up to 15 years in prison.
This is when a killing occurs either during the course of a crime that is not a felony, or during a lawful action when the accused did not take appropriate cations. Common examples are auto accidents where the driver is drunk or distracted and strikes somebody, a healthcare professional ignoring a vulnerable patient or a gun being accidentally discharged.
The sentence for a federal involuntary manslaughter conviction is a fine or up to 8 years in prison.
The sentences for second-degree murder and manslaughter depend on the nature of the crime, and certain mitigating or aggravating factors such as your prior criminal history.
How Are State and Federal Homicide Charges Different?
The federal government has a wide range of resources and federal agencies that will do everything in their power to secure a conviction. While the state of Missouri is and St. Louis courts are certainly capable of securing a murder conviction, having the full force of the federal government against you can be especially difficult to get favorable results.
In the case of first- or second- degree murder where the accused is sentenced to life in prison, it’s unlikely that a federal court would waste resources seeking their own conviction in a federal court. However, if a jury finds you not guilty at the state level, the federal government is free to pursue charges.
But What About Double Jeopardy?
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution generally protects people from double jeopardy, or the possibility of being prosecuted for the same crime twice. You may therefore think it’s illegal to have both a state trial and a federal trial. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Double jeopardy only protects people for being prosecuted twice by the same “sovereign,” or government. As states are considered “separate sovereigns” under the Supreme Court ruling in Gamble v. United States, both the state of Missouri and the federal government each have a right to prosecute you as long as the crime broke both state and federal law.
If you’re facing federal murder charges in St. Louis, that means that even if you are acquitted in Missouri state courts, you cannot be tried again in state court, but can still be prosecuted and convicted in federal court. While this may seem to violate the principle of double jeopardy, the Supreme Court has upheld the right of both a state and federal government to both charge someone for the same crime in separate indictments.
Defense of Federal Murder Charges in St. Louis
An experienced and confident St. Louis federal murder charges lawyer like those at Combs law will take an in-depth look at your case and work with you to develop the best defense strategy. To get you the best possible results in your case, we might use one or several of the following defense strategies:
- Self-Defense — If you committed the killing because you thought you or others were in imminent danger of being injured or killed, we may be able to convince a jury that the killing was lawful, and therefore not homicide.
- Mistaken Identity — If the evidence connecting you to the crime is minimal, we can make the argument that the perpetrator must be someone else. In some cases we may be able to present alternative suspects to the court and jury.
- Police Errors and Violation of Your Rights — While it might not seem like this if you are the accused, legally speaking you are entitled to the benefit of the doubt and are innocent until proven guilty. If the police contaminated evidence, did not follow proper protocol or your Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search and seizure were violated, we may be able to prevent key evidence from being presented.
- Your Mental State — There are two common defenses in federal murder cases based on your mental state. The insanity defense contends that you could not at the time of the alleged homicide differentiate between right and wrong. A successful defense would result in “not guilty by reason of insanity,” and likely result in you being committed to a mental institution. The diminished capacity defense means that you incapable of reaching the mental state required to commit murder, or intentionally kill someone, often because of mental impairment or disease. This defense is used to bring a murder charge down to a manslaughter charge.
- A Plea Deal — In some cases, if the evidence is stacked against you, we may be able to work with the judge and prosecution to bring a charge of murder down to homicide. In other cases, we may be able to negotiate a lighter sentence in exchange for information that may help federal investigators in another case.
Hire a Combs Law St. Louis, MO Federal Murder Defense Lawyer
Whatever the circumstances surrounding the alleged homicide, you need a talented, empathetic and driven St. Louis federal defense attorney to ensure your rights are protected and you get the best possible outcome in your case. Our attorneys are at their best in the courtroom and will handle every case personally. When you call Combs Law Group, the phone will be answered directly by the attorney that is handling your case.
Being charged with federal homicide charges in St. Louis has implications that will affect your entire future and freedom. To make sure those are protected, call Combs law today at (314) 900-HELP or contact us online for a free consultation.