First Degree Murder

First degree murder is defined in Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 265 Section 1. It is the crime of killing another person: (1) with deliberately premeditated malice aforethought; or (2) with extreme atrocity and cruelty; or (3) in the commission or attempted commission of a crime punishable with death or life imprisonment.

  1. With deliberately premeditated malice aforethought In this context, “deliberately” simply means purposeful. “Premeditated” refers to the time it takes to form the intent to kill. Even though use of the term “deliberately premeditated” makes it sound like the defendant had to have had a long time to think and plan, that is not the case. Deliberate premeditation can take only a moment. It only requires that the prosecutor prove that the defendant decided to kill after “cool reflection.” “Malice aforethought” includes a variety of situations. It can mean that there was an intent to kill. It can mean that there was an intent to cause great bodily harm. It can also mean that the defendant committed some act that created a strong likelihood that death or great bodily harm would result.
  2. With extreme atrocity or cruelty “Extreme atrocity and cruelty” means that the method the defendant used to kill the other person was extreme compared to the common way of causing death. Among other ways, this can be shown through evidence that the defendant repeatedly stabbed or beat the victim or that the defendant committed a sex act in connection with the killing.
  3. In the commission or attempted commission of a crime punishable with death or life imprisonment This is also known as “felony murder.” A few examples of crimes that are punishable with death or life imprisonment are robbery, rape and armed burglary. The prosecutor does not have to prove that the death occurred at the exact same time as the felony, but there will not be felony murder where the crime is entirely completed. Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether or not the death occurred during the commission or attempted commission of a felony, and this is usually left for the jury to decide.

This is when someone is killed in a way that is considered premeditated (planned) or with “extreme atrocity or cruelty,” according to the General Laws of Massachusetts. Many states also follow the “felony murder rule.” This is when any person dies while certain felonies, such as arson, burglary, kidnapping, rape or robbery, have happened. If a couple sets a house on fire intentionally, but one dies in the fire, the other can be charged with first-degree murder for the first person’s death.


First-degree murder is the most serious of all crimes. The sentence is life in prison without a chance for parole.

Speak With an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Today at 617.492.3000 or 800.481.6199.

The defense team at Altman & Altman, LLP has decades of practice in dealing with homicide cases. If you or someone you know are suspected with taking the life of another, the stakes are as high as they get. Contact us for a free consultation or call us at 617.492.3000 to see how we can help you.

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