When a person kills another person, regardless of intent, it is usually called a homicide in Massachusetts. But murder is where a person knowingly and specifically kills another human being or causes them substantial bodily harm and that person eventually dies due to their injuries.
In Massachusetts, you can be prosecuted for first degree or second degree murder. First degree murder (MGL Chapter 265 Section 1) happens when you intentionally kill another person with premeditation and deliberately. First degree murder also can occur if you commit a felony and a death occurs. This is referred to in Massachusetts as felony murder. For a felony murder charge, the state prosecutor only needs to prove the killing was a consequence of you committing another felony that can be punished by death or life in prison.
An example of felony murder is where you rob a bank and accidentally kill the security guard when you flee. You may not have intended to kill the person, but it was committed when you were committing a serious felony. If the jury decides you engaged in extreme atrocity or cruelty, the charges can result in more serious punishment.
Second degree murder in Massachusetts is where you intentionally kill another person but did not have any premeditation when the murder occurred. This type of killing often happens in the heat of the moment in an argument. Typically, the defendant definitely intended to kill but had no intent up until that moment to commit the crime.
In this state, second degree murder requires malice aforethought. This means any intent to commit serious bodily injury but there was no legal justification for doing it. As with a first degree murder charge, malice is the intent to act in a way that a reasonable person would know was likely to cause death or serious harm. The malice element in a second degree murder charge does not require intent on your part to cause death – just serious bodily injury.
Massachusetts Laws and Penalties
For first degree murder in Massachusetts, the penalty for a conviction is life imprisonment without parole. There is no death penalty in Massachusetts. All first degree murder convictions in this state are appealed automatically to the state Supreme Judicial Court, but it is unlikely most appeals will be successful.
For second degree murder in Massachusetts, there is a sentence of life in prison, but it is possible to apply for parole after a minimum number of years have been served. Generally, those convicted of second degree murder can apply for parole after 15 years.
One of the major differences with a second degree murder conviction is you can waive your right to a jury trial and have the case presented to a judge. This is known as a bench trial. Also, there is no automatic appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court after a second degree murder conviction.
According to Federal Sentencing Guidelines, you can receive a harsher sentence if you have aggravating factors, such as:
- One or more previous murder convictions
- Killing occurred during the commission of another felony
- Victim was a law enforcement officer
- Killing involved explosive materials or bombs
- Defendant was active gang member
- Victim was a prosecutor, judge or witness
Massachusetts Murder Defenses
In a first degree or second degree murder case, you have the same defenses available to you as in any charge, but the stakes are much higher. Some of these cases may actually be a ‘whodunit’ where your attorney may be able to present a strong alibi that suggests you were not at the scene of the crime. Your attorney may call alibi witnesses, point to questionable scientific evidence and persuade the jury that you were not at the scene at all.
It also may be possible to suppress evidence such as the photo array or lineup ID of you the supposed perpetrator. In doing this, it may be possible that there is reasonable doubt about whether you were at the scene.
Some murder defenses also revolve around the matter of self defense. If the attorney can show you were acting in self defense, it is possible to obtain an acquittal. Recently the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that it is appropriate in such cases for a defense attorney to bring in evidence of the violent nature of the murder victim, if you are using a self defense claim.
Another possible defense is that you did commit the act, but evidence exists that you were not in your right mind at the time. If your mental defect did not rise to actual insanity, it still may be possible to convince the jury that your mental state at the time should result in a reduced charge. For instance, if you can prove you were under extreme duress, you may be able to prove that you were unable to have premeditated the crime, and this could result in a reduction of a first degree charge to second degree.
Massachusetts Statute of Limitations
According to GSC Chapter 277 Section 63, there is no statute of limitations for murder in Massachusetts.
Massachusetts Murder Cases
- Massachusetts MS-13 Gang Members Convicted for Murder and Racketeering — Three members of MS-13 in Boston were convicted of murder last week by a federal jury. The three men were the 41s, 42nd and 43rd defendants to be convicted for various criminal activities of MS-13 in the area. The defendants each face up to life in prison and up to five years of supervised release, as well as a fine up to $250,000 for racketeering conspiracy.
- MA Murder Suspect Is Fighting Rendition from California — A man from New Hampshire is accused of killing his ex-fiance by strangulation last month in North Andover MA, but he is fighting rendition from California after he was taken into police custody last week. Brian Chevalier, 51, was arrested April 25 in Mexico. He is wanted in the strangulation death of Wendi Davidson who was found dead in her basement on April 21.
- Police Officer Murder Increases Calls for Death Penalty in MA — The killing of a police officer in Boston has some legislators calling for the death penalty to be reinstated in the state for the murder of police officers. The murder of Sean Gannon, who was a Yarmouth K-9 officer serving an arrest warrant last month when he died, has caused the issue to be raised yet again.