Louisville Homicide Defense

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Federal Murder Charges

Murder is one of the most serious federal crimes you could face.  If you are charged with murder, you need to consult with a Kentucky criminal defense lawyer immediately.  In most cases, murder is a state crime that is handled in state court and under state laws.  However, depending on the circumstances, murder charges may be brought under federal law and if you are found guilty, you could be sentenced to life in federal prison or death.

Federal murder charges are tried in federal court and involve the federal rules of evidence and criminal procedure. If you face a federal murder charge, you will need an experienced Kentucky federal criminal defense lawyer who not only has represented clients in federal courts but also who has experience with federal murder cases. At J. Clark Baird PLLC, our Kentucky criminal defense attorneys have represented many clients facing murder charges.  We have negotiated plea bargains and built successful defenses for many clients, allowing them to avoid conviction at trial as well as we have obtained jury acquittals allowing our clients to walk out of jail a free man.

Our Kentucky Criminal Defense Attorneys Can Help You Defend Against Federal Murder Charges

Under 18 U.S.C. Section 1111, murder is defined as the “unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought.” This means that you can be found guilty of murder if you intentionally take someone’s life after careful thought, planning or preparation.  If you are convicted of murder in the first degree, you can be sentenced to death or life in prison. Murder in the second degree, which is murder that does not occur during the commission of a crime or that does not fit other specific criteria, can also result in life in prison.  However, second degree murder is not a death penalty offense.

Federal murder charges may arise in the following situations:

  • Drug trafficking
  • Crossing state borders
  • Occur on a body of water
  • Are considered an attack on the U.S. government or judicial system

Here are 10 such circumstances in which a killing could be charged as a federal crime:

1. Murder of an Elected/Appointed Federal Official (18 U.S.C. Section 351, 1751)

If the victim is a Congressman, a Senator, the President, Vice President, a Cabinet officer (such as the Secretary of State), or a Supreme Court Justice, or if their death was the result of a kidnapping, the crime would fall under federal jurisdiction under 18 U.S.C. Section 351 and 18 U.S.C. Section 1751.

2. Murder of a Federal Judge or Law Enforcement Official (18 U.S.C. Section 1114)

Similar to the above, it is also a federal crime to kill a judge appointed to the federal courts or to murder a federal law enforcement official, such as an agent of the FBI or DEA.

3. Killing of an Immediate Family Member of Law Enforcement Officials (18 U.S.C. Section 115(b)(3))

Not only does federal law protect law enforcement officials, but it also protects their family members from threats or retaliation intended to influence the law enforcement official into dropping their investigation.

4. A Killing Designed to Influence the Outcome of a Court Case (18 U.S.C. Section 1512)

Federal law also prohibits murders of court officers and jurors, or killings that are intended to prevent testimony from a witness, police informant, or a victim. In addition, it is also a federal crime to commit murder in retaliation for testimony given at a trial.

5. A Killing Committed During Bank Robbery (18 U.S.C. Section 1111)

Generally, the felony murder rule applies to any killings committed during the course of a felony, such as kidnapping or arson. Bank robbery itself is a federal crime as well as a felony. A murder committed during the course of a bank robbery can result in federal charges.

This includes the killing of any staff, security guards, or customers in the bank, any murders of hostages, or any killings made during the attempt to escape law enforcement.

6. Murder Related to Rape, Child Molestation, and Sexual Exploitation of Children (18 U.S.C. Section 2248, 2251)

A federal murder charge can occur when the underlying felony that led to the victim’s death is rape, or if the murder occurs in the course of the commission of a sexual crime against a child.

The logic behind the federal law is slightly different in the case of sexual exploitation of minors. The Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate interstate and foreign commerce. The Supreme Court has held this to mean that Congress can control the paths of commerce (such as roads, shipping lanes, and railways) as well as what travels on those paths.

If the murder is related to the transportation or transmission of illegal contraband such as child pornography, it can be charged as a federal crime.

7. Murder Aboard a Ship (18 U.S.C. Section 2280)

The official name of this type of crime is “an offense against maritime navigation.” Usually, this refers to piracy, which is the taking by force or threat of force of a ship at sea. If a murder occurs during a crime that threatens the safe travel of a ship either in U.S. waters, or if the victim is a U.S. national regardless of where the ship is when the murder takes place, the homicide can be charged under federal law.

8. Drug-Related Murders (18 U.S.C. Section 36, 924(i))

Violence related to drug trafficking is a serious problem in the U.S. Some estimates place the number of deaths in the “War on Drugs” between 2006 and 2010 higher than the number of soldiers killed in the Iraq War. It is no surprise then that the U.S. government’s policy is to punish drug-related murders under strict federal laws.

9. Murder for Hire (18 U.S.C. Section 1958)

Why is murder-for-hire potentially a federal crime? Congress has legal jurisdiction over interstate commerce. Interstate commerce includes not only the paths that people can travel between states, but also the use of communication pathways such as the postal service, telephone lines, cellular towers, and other electronic communication.

If the killing can only be accomplished by causing a person to travel over state lines (including the victim), or by communicating the request by phone, mail, or the Internet, the murder-for-hire could be a federal crime.

10. Murder by Mail (18 U.S.C. Section 1716)

For the same reason as murder for hire, the use of the postal service to send lethal items (such as explosives, poisons, biological hazards, or even dangerous animals) intended to kill the recipient is also a federal crime.7

Theodore Kaczynski, known also as the “Unabomber,” was convicted in 1998 under this law for sending bombs through the mail that killed three people and injured 23 others.

In these and other federal murder situations, you need the most experienced and aggressive Kentucky criminal defense lawyer you can find to represent you at trial.  Since defendants may face the death penalty if found guilty, having the best legal representation possible is a matter of life and death.


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