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What are the elements of first-degree murder?

In the American criminal justice system, each crime has its own set of elements, i.e., the things that the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict the defendant. At the very least, each crime must contain the defendant’s voluntary commission of a criminal act, his or her intent to commit the act, and the victim’s death as a result of that act.

How intent matters

If law enforcement officers accuse you of committing first-degree murder, FindLaw explains that Illinois Criminal Code Chapter 720, Section 5/9-1, requires the prosecutor to prove not only the victim’s death, but also at least one of the following elements:

•That you intended to commit an act that would either kill the victim or cause him or her great bodily harm

•That you knew your intended act would probably either severely injure or kill the victim

•That you intended to commit or participate in a forcible felony during which the victim died

This last element, known as Illinois’s forcible felony rule, means that the jury can convict you of first-degree murder even if you did not personally kill the victim or intend his or her death. As long as you intended to commit the felonious act, you become responsible for any death that results from it, whether or not intended.

Penalties for first-degree murder

In 2011, Illinois banned the death penalty for first-degree murder convictions. Instead, if convicted of this most serious form of homicide, you will face a minimum 20-year prison term without the possibility of parole. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the act you committed and the victim’s consequent death, you could receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole.