Understanding New York’s Murder Statute

Understanding New York’s Murder Statute

As a former homicide prosecutor and legal analyst for the Law and Crime Network, I often get asked to explain New York’s Murder statute and how it differs from other states.   Keep in mind, that all states have their own definition of Murder. But New York’s version is fairly unique.

First of all, it is a common misconception by many, including some in the legal field, that Murder, as defined in the New York penal law, requires the prosecutor to prove premeditation on the part of the defendant.  That is simply not the case. Unlike many states, such as Florida and South Dakota, there is no legal requirement in New York State that the prosecutor prove that a defendant planned the murder in advance or even had the intent to kill at any particular time prior to engaging in the murderous conduct.  Instead, the law requires that the defendant act with the intent to kill at the very moment he or she commits the homicidal act.

Additionally, in New York, the prosecutor does not have to show a motive on the part of the defendant in order to prove he or she is guilty of murder.  That is not a requirement in the statute. Of course, it certainly helps the prosecution to make their case if they are able to show a motive. And the judge will often instruct a jury that if there is a motive shown, that motive can be used by the jury as evidence to support the murder.     

Next, unlike some other states, New York has two distinct charges of Murder: Murder in the First Degree and Murder in the Second Degree. Murder in the First Degree requires an individual act with the intent to kill and:

– the victim must be a police officer or peace officer who was on duty at the time of his death, or  

-the victim was a judge or

-a second victim was killed or

-the defendant had been convicted of a previous murder or

-the victim was a witness to a crime and the person was killed to prevent the person from testifying or as a retaliatory act for testifying or

– the death involved murder for hire or a contract killing, or

– the victim was killed during the course of a specific felony, such as rape or robbery or

-the victim was tortured or

-the crime was part of an act of terrorism.                                

 Unlike Murder in the First Degree, a person is guilty of Murder in the Second Degree  if:

-with intent to kill, a person causes the death of another  or

-the person acted with depraved indifference to human life and recklessly caused another’s death or

-the person caused the death of another during the course of a felony, such as rape or robbery.  (keep in mind that under this specific charge, there is no requirement of intent to kill)

Finally, the potential punishment for Murder in New York differs from that in other jurisdictions.  For example, unlike states such as Florida or Texas, New York does not have the death penalty. Instead, an individual convicted of Murder can face anywhere from 15 years to life to a Life sentence without the possibility of parole.  

If you or a loved one is faced with the serious charge of Murder, or any violent crime, you need an attorney with expertise in this area of the law.  Julie Rendelman’s combined experience as both a homicide prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney, coupled with her expertise in the courtroom, provides clients with the support they need to implement a strong defense. She can be reached 24 hours a day at 212-951-1232 or julie@rendelmanlaw.com