In the United States, murder is one of only a handful of offenses for which a defendant might be sentenced to death — treason, espionage, and terrorism being the other capital crimes in the U.S. If you have been accused of murder you are undoubtedly already aware of the serious nature of the charges against you. At this point, the most important step you can take for you, and for your future, it to retain the services of an experienced Nebraska criminal defense attorney. In the meantime, however, you are likely worried about how your criminal defense attorney will defend you against the charge of murder. Like all criminal prosecutions, the unique facts and circumstances of case will ultimately determine how your attorney prepares your defense. There are, however, several common defenses to a charge of murder.
Nebraska’s Homicide Laws
Before discusses defenses to the offense of murder, it is important to understand exactly what you have been charged with because “murder” could actually refer to any one of four separate criminal offenses in the State of Nebraska, including:
- Murder in the 1st degree — A person commits murder in the first degree if he or she kills another person (a) purposely and with deliberate and premeditated malice, (b) in the perpetration of or attempt to perpetrate any sexual assault in the first degree, arson, robbery, kidnapping, hijacking of any public or private means of transportation, or burglary, or (c) by administering poison or causing the same to be done.
- Murder in the 2nd degree — A person commits murder in the second degree if he causes the death of a person intentionally, but without premeditation.
- Manslaughter — A person commits manslaughter if he or she kills another without malice upon a sudden quarrel or causes the death of another unintentionally while in the commission of an unlawful act.
- Motor vehicle homicide — A person who causes the death of another unintentionally while engaged in the operation of a motor vehicle in violation of the law of the State of Nebraska or in violation of any city or village ordinance commits motor vehicle homicide.
How a Criminal Defense Attorney Might Defend a Murder Charge
Although the details will vary considerably, there are some basic defense strategies that a criminal defense attorney might use when defending you on a murder charge, including:
- It was self-defense – this is referred to as using an “affirmative defense.” It basically admits that you did kill the person; however, you had the legal right to do so. In this case, that legal right was based on the fact that you had a right to use deadly force in order to defend yourself.
- He/she didn’t mean to – this defense argues the lack of “mens rea.” Mens rea refers to your state of mind. Whether or not this is an option depends on how you are charged. If charged with 1st degree murder, for instance, the State must prove you deliberately killed the victim. Your attorney might argue that you never meant to kill the victim, therefore there was no premeditation.
- You can’t prove it – the State of Nebraska has the burden of proving you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Sometimes, the State’s case is weak enough that all your attorney needs to do is focus on the holes and weakness in the State’s case in order to defend you.
- You messed up – if the police conducted an illegal search and seizure, or otherwise violated your rights, your attorney might be able to use that to get evidence excluded.
- He/she was not in his/her right mind at the time – otherwise known as the insanity defense. Even if this works you will not walk away a free person. You will likely be sent to a State hospital for treatment; however, it could prevent a conviction for murder.
If you have been charged with murder, or another form of homicide, in the State of Nebraska and you have specific questions or concerns about your case, it is certainly in your best interest to consult with an experienced Nebraska criminal defense attorney right away. In Nebraska contact Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070 to discuss your case with an experienced criminal defense attorney.