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Are you or a loved one charged with murder in Chicago? This page will help you understand the strengths and weaknesses of the case; it may even contain the seed of a path to victory. The information comes from me, Chris Shepherd, a Chicago murder lawyer practicing since 2005.
If you are charged with a type of homicide other than murder, please visit my soon to be published guides on the specific charges you are facing:
- Involuntary Manslaughter
- Reckless Homicide
- Drug Induced Homicide
Types of Murder in Illinois & Potential Penalties
There are two types of First Degree Murder in Illinois:
- Killing another with the intent to kill or do great bodily harm
- Killing another while committing a “forcible felony”
"Forcible Felonies" include many types of violent crime: sexual assault, robbery, burglary, arson and aggravated battery to name just a few.
The penalty for first degree murder is a minimum of 20 years and a maximum of life imprisonment. The death penalty is abolished in Illinois.
The second type of homicide in Illinois is Second Degree Murder. Second degree murder is the same as first degree murder but generally involves killing in the heat of an intense and sudden passion. The penalty for second degree murder is a minimum of 4 years and a maximum of thirty years.
It may seem strange to talk about seeking settlement options for murder charges, but they do exist. I have seen clients accused of attempted murder get charges reduced to aggravated battery. Negotiating with prosecutors is a low cost way to possibly achieve some of your goals, or at least give you options. For more on this strategy, read my guide on your settlement options.
Usually, however, settlement options are not available for those charged with murder in Chicago and you must fight your way out. In any event, strengthening your position through strong pretrial investigation and research is not only the surest way to beat these charges, it is also the best way to negotiate the best offer from prosecutors because it builds leverage.
It is hard to overstate the role of legal research in the Chicago murder lawyer's toolbox. Sometimes, because of the existence of a dead body, the prosecution is under pressure to charge someone, anyone, with murder. This can often paradoxically result in a case brought with weak or little evidence.
Although it is nearly unheard of, I once was able to get murder charges dismissed through pretrial motions based on effective issue spotting and legal research. Through vigorous pretrial motions, we were able to knock out the hearsay evidence the prosecution's case relied on. Once we were able to keep that unfair and unreliable piece of evidence out, the prosecution's case fell apart and they had no choice but to voluntarily dismiss the charges.
Ways to Beat Murder Charges
If you are either forced to fight murder charges or are not interested in any deal, there are ways to beat these accusations:
- Prove Self-Defense. You are legally entitled to inflict great bodily harm on another person, even kill them, if you reasonably believe that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to yourself or another person, or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony. 720 ILCS 5/7-1. For more, read my guide on proving self-defense in murder cases,
- Undermine the "Eyewitness" Identification. Eyewitness misidentification is the #1 cause of wrongful convictions, playing a role in 75% of convictions proved false by DNA evidence. The problem is that eyewitness testimony looks strong in court, but is actually very weak because the human mind is so flawed. Because eyewitness confidence grows as the trial approaches, the defense lawyer must investigate and interview eyewitnesses now rather than wait until trial. An understanding of the psychological literature on eyewitness identification, pretrial motions to suppress identification testimony, and an expert witness' help are also powerful tools.
- Understand and Attack Bad Forensic Science. Like eyewitness testimony, expert witnesses can often awe the jury with their extensive resumes and credentials... unless the defense can show the flaws. There are two main opportunities for attacking bad forensic science: (a) attacking "junk" sciences like hair microscopy, arson detection and bite mark comparison or (b) showing that the "expert" is testifying in a scientifically valid field, but that testing did not adhere to quality control standards or that industry's standard of care,
- Suppressing False Confessions. I see false confessions all the time in my work as a Chicago criminal lawyer. After hour upon hour of being stuck in a small room with hostile investigators, defendants often falsely sign confessions just so they can get out of that room. Juveniles and people who do not speak English well are especially vulnerable. What people don't understand when they make these involuntary statements is that their "confession" is often the strongest piece of evidence in the case. It is therefore crucial to flesh out the pressure that went into forcing the confession and attacking it with a pretrial motion to suppress statements.
Let's Have a Conversation
If you are charged with murder, or think the charges might be coming, it's time for a conversation about your options. Call me at 312.396.4112, or contact me online.