Murder and Homicide Laws in Missouri

Murder, or Homicide can safely be said to be a universal crime. Although murder rates differ considerably from country to country, every nation has some form of homicide law. How well murders are prosecuted depends largely on political and social will. In the United States, murder is prosecuted vigorously, though the penalties differ widely from state to state. In Missouri, homicide is the most serious offense one may commit. The sentences for a murder conviction in Missouri can include the ultimate penalty: Death.

Thus, if you or someone you love has been charged with murder or a homicide-related offense, read on. You will find answers to the most basic questions related to murder charges.

What Constitutes Murder/Homicide and Related Charges in Missouri?

The exact definition of First Degree Murder in Missouri is stated in Revised Statute 565.020. 1. There it reads,

“A person commits the crime of murder in the first degree if he knowingly causes the death of another person after deliberation upon the matter.”

Thus you will notice that in the case of the most serious homicide charge, there must be two elements:

  • A death; known as the actus reus, which is Latin for the physical action.
  • Intent to kill; known as the mens rea, which is Latin for the mental state of awareness that the act is a crime and is wrong.

In wording the law as it does, the state recognizes that there are times when a person may commit the act, but lacks either the capacity or the will for intent. As an example, perhaps someone is sleeping one night when a burglar enters the home. In the course of committing the burglary, the startled homeowner awakes and a fight ensues. If the homeowner happens to cause the burglar to fall over a staircase and die, the likelihood of a first degree murder charge is very slim—the homeowner did not go to bed that night intending to wake in the night and kill someone. That is the stuff of movies and seldom happens in real life.

But homicide is very real and Missouri law recognizes that there can be various degrees of guilt respecting the wrongful death of a citizen. Not all cases are as clear as the example given above. Thus, there are naturally different degrees of homicide in Missouri. Next, we consider how the degrees of homicide differ; both in general and in Missouri.

What are the Different Degrees of Homicide and How Do They Differ?

Most people recognize that there are different levels or degrees of culpability when one person has killed another. For this reason, laws have developed that recognize this fact when sentencing a guilty party. However, common to all is that the worst form of murder is either referred to as First Degree or Capital Murder.

Capital or First Degree Murder describes the most heinous act of homicide because it occurs with forethought. One has considered the action prior to doing so with enough time to reach a rational decision; the slaying is a planned, intentional action. If that decision is to kill, then the intent raises the penalty that society deems justified.

In the state of Missouri First Degree Murderis a Class A felony. As such, a conviction will result in either life in prison or the death penalty. There are only two exceptions to this rule. These are,

  • The first exception is if the defendant was less-than-sixteen years of age at the time of the murder, the death penalty cannot be applied.
  • The second is Mental Illness/Retardation. In other words, if a person does not have the capacity to understand they committed a crime (called mens rea), then they cannot be put to death for that crime. Of course, basic law practice states that if someone lacks the mens rea/intent to commit a crime, then there is no crime. It is a matter of law that continues to evoke strong passions in the criminal justice community.

At times, a person may intend in the instant that the killing occurred to kill another; but in the moments, hours, days, months leading up had no such intent. In these cases, what is generally-termed second degree murder has occurred.

Second-Degree murder has elements of both rational and irrational thought and action on the part of the defendant. An example would be two people getting into a fight at a bar; one gets the advantage and continues to beat on the other, intending in that moment only, to kill. Another example is committing a murder in the course of committing another felony crime. In some parts of the United States, this is known as Felony Murder; Missouri calls it voluntary manslaughter.

Finally, when a death occurs at someone’s hand and they simply did not intend for it to happen, a charge of Involuntary Manslaughter may be brought. In Missouri, Involuntary Manslaughter is a Class B Felony. Some states refer to this as Third-Degree Murder, some include vehicular homicide with this level of murder.

What are the Possible Penalties if Convicted of Murder or Related Charges in Missouri?

In Missouri, there are three classes in which murder charges may fall.

  • If it was involuntary manslaughter, a Class C felony charge will result. The possible penalties for a Class C felony in Missouri include up to seven years’ incarceration and/or a maximum fine of $5000.
  • If the defendant is facing voluntary manslaughter, this is second-degree murder, a Class B felony. The sentence will be between 5 and 15 years in prison.
  • All cases of intentional murder are Class A felonies in Missouri. Penalties for murder are either life in prison or the death penalty.

Because so much is at stake, if you have been charged with murder or manslaughter and you live in or around St. Louis, you owe it to yourself to call the Law Offices of Jason A. Korner now.

What Are Defenses to Murder or Degree-Related Charges?

Generally, in there are three levels of defense in murder trials. These are first degree defenses, second degree defenses, and justifiable homicide. Each state has some form of these three, though the exact terms used will differ. For instance, in Missouri, common is the “under influence of sudden passion” defense. This is a defense that relies on psychological evidence that a person may commit murder in the “heat of passion” and never commit another crime. It is considered a momentary lapse of sanity; one not expected to repeat itself.

Some other defenses to a charge of first-degree murder include mistaken identity, self-defense and defense of others, justifiable homicide, an accident, or a proper exercise of your official duties.

In the case of second degree charges, known as voluntary homicide here in Missouri, one key defense would be actual innocence. If an alibi can be established or exculpatory evidence be introduced, this would be an excellent defense.
However, the legal system is not always about perfect function. At times, innocent or not, guilt may ensue. It may be necessary to use an affirmative defense. Self-defense, is one such defense. If you can prove that your life was in danger, you can claim self-defense.

Justifiable homicide situations include defense of home, self, and others, war, as a state-appointed executioner, and medical necessity.

Facing Murder or Related Charges?Call Criminal Defense Attorney Jason Korner Now!

Regardless of the reason you have been charged, the sooner you have an attorney at your side the better. If you are taken into custody, do not speak with the police. Exercise your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent other than to tell authorities to phone me. My name is Jason A. Korner and after several years working with state prosecutors, I became a criminal defense attorney. If you have need of my services, I will be your defense attorney. As such, I will promise to provide you with the most aggressive defense in my power. I will defend your rights and obtain the best possible outcome in your case.
Located in St. Louis, I provide a sound defense in murder and related cases. Why not give me a call right now to schedule a free consultation. My number is 314-409-2659. I can help.

Other Common Questions Asked About Murder Charges…

In Criminal Law, what is mens rea and when does it apply?

Mens rea is a Latin term meaning literally, “guilty mind.” It applies to the mental state of the defendant. Was the defendant of sound mind at the time of the crime? Does the defendant have the mental capacity to appreciate that their actions were wrong? (i.e. a child, someone with a severe mental condition, someone developmentally disabled)

If after a reasonable effort to determine the defendant capable of premeditation, then either lesser charges will be brought or the charges dropped entirely. Because all situations differ, it would be necessary to consult with an experienced attorney. To contact Jason A. Korner now, click here.

What are the two elements of most crimes?
Mens rea and actus reus, meaning the mental state of the crime and the actual physical state of the crime.

What is Mea Culpa and How Does It Apply to Murder Charges?

Mea culpa is a Latin term meaning literally, “through my fault.” In legal terms, it is an apology for a wrong committed upon another.

What is Habeas Corpus?

Habeas corpus is a Latin expression meaning literally, “you have the body.” In the most literal sense, it is an expression used to indicate that a crime of murder has been committed because the body is present for examination. In modern law, habeas corpus refers to a writ which officially calls a defendant to court for the purpose of determining whether there is sufficient grounds to retain him/her.

Other Resources

Missouri Revised Statutes, Chapter 565, Offenses Against the Person, Section 565.020.1

Missouri Revised Statutes, Chapter 565, Offenses Against the Person, Section 565.023.1

Missouri Revised Statutes, Chapter 566, Offenses Against the Person, Section 565.023.2

Limitations on the Death Penalty


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