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Murder is undoubtedly one of the most serious criminal offences. If you have been arrested and charged with murder, you probably feel overwhelmed and terrified. You may be replaying events in your mind and questioning your options. Your court date is likely to be some months away and you may be thinking of that date with apprehension, wondering about what the judge will direct the jury to consider when reaching its verdict. Perhaps you are asking yourself whether you may be able to use a legal defence to justify your actions to the court. If so, this article can help. This article explains the legal definition of murder and discusses the kind of evidence that is likely to come up in your case. We then look at the maximum sentence for murder. Finally, and most importantly, we discuss the defences that you may be able to rely upon to reduce your sentence or be relieved of liability altogether.
Murder is one of several offences that relate to the unlawful killing of a human being. Under the law of England and Wales, for you to be convicted of murder, the court must find that:
The evidence that the prosecution will rely upon in a murder case depends greatly on the circumstances. If the act took place in a public area, the police will obtain any available CCTV footage. Witness testimonies of anyone who was present or had knowledge of the events are likely to be key evidence, both for the prosecution and for the defence. When you were arrested, the police undoubtedly took biometric information such as your fingerprints and DNA sample. They may try to use these to link you to the scene of the crime, and – if applicable – with the body.
Both the prosecution and the defence team are likely to rely upon medico-legal experts. A pathologist will examine the corpse to determine the cause of death. Both sides may also ask a psychiatrist to prepare a report on you. This report will present what was understood about your state of mind at the time of the offence.
The court may also consider any communication that you had with the victim in the time period preceding their death. For this reason, the police will seize electronic devices such as your mobile phone and computer. Very importantly, your own testimony, if you choose to give one, will be essential evidence.
According to the law, if you are convicted of murder, the judge must give you a life sentence. However, this does not necessarily mean that you will spend your whole life in jail. If you are under the age of 18, the minimum term of your custodial sentence is 12 years. If you are an adult, the minimum time that you will spend in prison is between 15 and 30 years.
When considering what sentence to give you, the judge will consider ‘aggravating’ and ‘mitigating’ factors. An aggravating factor is one that increases the seriousness of the offence. For example, if you planned the offence to a significant degree, if you abused a position of trust, or if the victim was particularly vulnerable.
A mitigating factor is one that may help reduce the sentence you are given. This might include if you were suffering from mental health issues at the time of the offence, or if you were acting in response to fear or provocation. If you make a guilty plea, this may reduce the sentence that you are given.
Sentences for murder vary considerably depending on the facts of the case, and it is difficult to generalise. As with anything in a murder charge, you should ask a solicitor for specialist advice on your case. More details on the sentencing guidelines for murder can be found here.
This section explores the legal justifications to murder. These fall into two categories: partial defences and complete defences.
Partial defences argue that you did not have the intention to kill or commit serious harm required by the law to convict a person of murder. If successfully argued, they may lead to the murder charge being reduced to manslaughter.
Complete defences are incredibly valuable because, a valid complete defence may lead to you being acquitted altogether or convicted of a lesser offence.
A successful defence may lead to you being acquitted or convicted of a lesser charge, such as manslaughter. Defences to murder are a complex area of law, so it is essential to instruct a solicitor whom you trust as soon as possible.
If you or a loved one has been accused of murder, the experts at Stuart Miller Solicitors are ready to assist you today. At this difficult time in your life, instructing the right lawyer who takes time to understand your case and advises you on the best course of action might just make all the difference. To arrange a no-obligation consultation, please get in touch.
(This page was last updated on November 22, 2023.)