18 U.S.C. § 1111 - Federal Murder

Most murder cases will be prosecuted in local state courts. Still, there are some circumstances when murder is considered a federal crime that will be charged in federal court and subject to federal sentencing.

18 U.S.C. 1111 defines murder as the “unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought... within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”

A murder case could be considered a federal offense based on the victim's identity, such as an elected or appointed federal government official, a federal judge or law enforcement officer, or their immediate family members.

Further, it's a murder committed to try and influence the outcome of a federal court case, such as jurors, police informants, and witnesses, to prevent testimony or retaliation. It also includes drug-related murders.

18 U.S.C. § 1111 - Federal Murder
Under 18 U.S.C. 1111, murder is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought.

 A murder was committed during a bank robbery, such as the killing of a bank employee or customer during the robbery. Also, a murder related to rape, child molestation, or the sexual exploitation of children falls under federal law.

Some murders fall under federal jurisdiction because of where they occurred, such as murder on ships or aboard airplanes in territorial waters. Based on United States maritime law, it's a federal offense to commit murder on a ship or a crime resulting in someone's death if it threatens the safe travel of the vessel within U.S. waters.

It also includes murders in national parks or military bases, where only the federal government has criminal prosecutorial authority.

Murders for hire that involve interstate commerce are a federal offense. This means if it crosses state lines or uses communication methods, including phone, mail, or the internet, then a murder for hire could be a federal crime.

There is also murder by mail, which includes using the United States postal service to send poisons or explosives. A federal murder could be tried as a first-degree murder or a second-degree murder based on the case details. Let's review further below.

What Does the Law Say?

18 U.S. Code 1111 legally defines the federal offense of murder as “the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought.

Malice Aforethought
Malice aforethought means it was an intentional act that resulted in someone's death.

Every murder perpetrated by poison, lying in wait, or any other kind of willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated killing; or committed in the perpetration of, or attempt to perpetrate, any arson, escape, murder, kidnapping, treason, espionage, sabotage, aggravated sexual abuse or sexual abuse, child abuse, burglary, or robbery; or perpetrated as part of a pattern or practice of assault or torture against a child or children; or perpetrated from a premeditated design unlawfully and maliciously to effect the death of any human being other than him who is killed, is murder in the first degree. Any other murder is murder in the second degree.

(b)Within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States,

Whoever is guilty of murder in the first degree shall be punished by death or by imprisonment for life; Whoever is guilty of murder in the second degree shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life.”

Malice aforethought describes the mental state required for murder. It refers to an intentional act that resulted in someone's death. This proof often shows that the killer thought about murder before committing it and took specific steps to facilitate the murder.

What Makes Murder a Federal Crime?

As noted, there are situations where a murder case will be tried in a federal court, such as the charges below and including the related crimes under 18 U.S. Code Chapter 51 homicide:  

  • 18 U.S.C. 351 - Congressional assassination or kidnapping,
  • 18 U.S.C. 1751 - Presidential and staff assassination;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1512 - Tampering with a witness or victim;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1958 - Use of interstate commerce in murder for hire
  • 18 U.S.C. 1112 - Manslaughter;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1113 - Attempt to commit murder or manslaughter;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1114 - Protection of officers and employees of the United States;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1115 - Misconduct or neglect of ship officers;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1116 - Murder or manslaughter of foreign officials, official guests, or internationally protected persons;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1117 - Conspiracy to murder;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1118 - Murder by a federal prisoner;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1119 - Foreign murder of United States nationals
  • 18 U.S.C. 1120 - Murder by escaped prisoners
  • 18 U.S.C. 1121 - Killing persons aiding federal investigations or state correctional officers
  • 18 U.S.C. 1122 - Protection against the human immunodeficiency virus.

Other Things to Know About Federal Murder

  • First-degree murder includes killing by poisoning, lying in wait, or any other kind of willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated killing.
  • First-degree murder includes the “felony murder rule,” which is killing that occurs in a situation where a defendant chooses to engage in an inherently dangerous and illegal activity such as arson, escape, kidnapping, sexual assault, rape, burglary, or robbery.
  • All other killings perpetrated with malice aforethought are second-degree murder, called “implied malice” killings.
  • A second-degree murder is generally when someone kills another person while displaying reckless indifference to the value of human life or acts with a “depraved heart.” There is no requirement that the defendant intended to kill anyone or that he premeditated the killing.

What Are the Penalties for 18 U.S.C. 1111?

A first-degree murder conviction under this statute is punishable by life in the Federal Bureau of Prisons or the death penalty. 

Second-degree murder conviction is punishable by any term of imprisonment up to and including life but does not include the death penalty. 

Department of Justice guidelines require federal prosecutors to request permission from the Attorney General before seeking the death penalty in a murder case.

What Are the Defenses for 18 U.S.C. 1111?

Suppose you are accused of murder under federal law. In that case, you will need a seasoned federal criminal defense lawyer to have the best chance of a favorable outcome.

Defenses for Federal Murder
Contact our federal defense lawyers for help.

Negotiation skills with the prosecutor are crucial. Maybe we can argue that you were acting in self-defense or defense of others.

Maybe we can prove that you reasonably believed there was imminent danger of being harmed or suffering serious bodily injury and that you were forced to act.  

Maybe we can argue that the killing was an accident. Maybe there was no intent to harm the victim, and you were not acting negligently.

Maybe we can argue that there was misconduct by law enforcement, such as an unlawful search and seizure.  Maybe we can say that there is insufficient evidence for a conviction. Perhaps you are the victim of a false allegation or mistaken identity.

You can contact us for a free case evaluation by phone or via the contact form. The Hedding Law Firm is located in Los Angeles, California.

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