Being charged with murder is one of the most difficult cases to handle. Not only are there issues with innocence and guilt, but if the defendant is found guilty, the punishment can be significant. If you are facing murder charges, there are several factors that affect your case.
Although murder charges can seem cut and dry, they are not. The district attorney (DA) typically has significant discretion in the type of charges the defendant faces and whether they offer a plea deal. Since the DA is often an elected position, a person who has a platform that is tough on crime will generally seek the harshest charges and want the maximum sentence, and they may rarely offer a plea deal to the accused.
The types of murder charges will vary based on jurisdiction. In some cases, there may be lesser included offenses, such as second- and third-degree murder, or manslaughter. When there are lesser included offenses, the jury has more options to consider. They may find the defendant not guilty on the worst of the charges but feel like the evidence supports a guilty verdict on one of the lesser charges. Due to prosecutorial discretion, there is always the possibility of charges being dropped or reduced before they ever go to trial, especially if the DA feels they do not have a solid case and may not want to risk a verdict of not guilty, which cannot be retried.
Invoking Your 5th Amendment Rights
It is always in your best interest to invoke your Fifth Amendment rights and not talk to detectives without your lawyer present. Unfortunately, defendants may be eager to talk to detectives because they are afraid, and if other parties are involved in the crime, they can be persuaded to talk because they may believe a co-defendant is already placing the blame on them. By staying quiet, you will have the opportunity to discuss your situation with your attorney, and your attorney can help you determine what, if any, information you should discuss with detectives and be present with you when you talk to them. If you have already talked to detectives, there is little your attorney can do to potentially undo the damage.
Every defendant is afforded the right to legal defense, regardless of their socioeconomic situation. A competent defense and a good defense are different, and defendants who are in the position to hire their own attorney generally have better outcomes. It is generally recommended you plead not guilty, to preserve as many avenues for appeals as possible. There may be situations where your lawyer advises you to plead guilty to the charges. If you are truly guilty and were offered a plea deal, you may be offered the chance to plead to a lesser charge that results in significantly less prison time, or in cases where capital punishment is a realistic threat, you may be offered the opportunity to plead guilty in order to avoid the death penalty.
If your case goes to trial, your attorney is critical to help prepare a defense if you are pleading not guilty. If you are found guilty, your attorney will prepare mitigation evidence in hopes of reducing the severity of punishment. In the case of mitigation, you must cooperate with your attorney. Some defendants do not want to involve their family or may have issues in their past that are embarrassing, and they do not want the issues discussed. If you do not help your attorney with your mitigation evidence, you cannot claim ineffective assistance of counsel later on appeal because no mitigation evidence was presented.
Murder cases are complex since there are many variables that affect the outcome. Staying quiet and asking for a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible can make a significant difference in your case.