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Capital Murder: How it is Defined and Its Potential Consequences

Photo: Broken HandcuffsCapital murder is a legal term that is commonly used in several U.S. states to refer to a particularly heinous form of murder. While the term “capital murder” is often used synonymously with “aggravated murder” or “first degree murder,” this is not always an accurate representation of the crime.  While first degree murder and aggravated murder are always capital murder, this statement is not true when reversed. There are specific circumstances that must be involved in a case for someone to be charged with capital murder.

Defining Characteristics of Capital Murder

One of the main differentiators of a capital murder case involves the type of victim targeted. For example, in most cases, the crime will be labeled as capital murder if the victim is a child, police officer, firefighter, paramedic, or other government official.

Another determining factor for labeling a crime as capital murder is the nature of the murder itself. If the murder is proven to be premeditated, it is capital murder. Murders that are committed during other acts of violence like sexual violence or rape, burglary, kidnapping, or other forms of physical assault, are also often charged as capital murder. The act of receiving payment for the premeditated murder of a victim is also generally considered capital murder, as is killing someone by shooting at them while in a moving vehicle.  

Courts will also consider the defendant’s motive for the murder during the trial. Particularly vicious murders – which may include torture, beheading, disembodiment, or the use of poison – are also considered to be capital murder.

It’s important to note that each state decides which factors go into labeling a crime as capital murder. Additionally, each state has its own guidelines outlining how the crime will be punished.  

A Capital Murder Conviction May Lead to Capital Punishment

The sentence for a capital murder conviction includes life in prison, and sometimes even the death penalty, depending on how heinous of a crime was committed.  Capital murder is one of the only crimes punishable by  capital punishment in the state of California, along with treason, and a jury must unanimously find a defendant guilty for the judge to sentence someone to the death penalty.  

There are specific limitations regarding capital punishment, however.  For example, a death sentence cannot be placed on criminals who are deemed mentally unfit or were under the age of 18 at the time the crime was committed.

If you’ve been charged with capital murder, you should not try to go it alone. Capital murder is a serious crime, and the punishment for a conviction is severe. It’s important that you speak with a reputable, experienced lawyer as soon as possible to discuss the specifics surrounding your case, and explore what options are available. Contact Elden Law Group today to schedule a consultation, and to lock in your legal representation.  


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