A recent death in Palatine, Illinois highlights the ease with which a person can find themselves charged with first degree murder. The incident in question relates to the punching death of a 26-year-old man on July 18th. According to police, another man confronted the victim out in front of a local bar. The assailant allegedly threw a single punch and knocked the victim to the ground. Upon falling, the victim struck his head on the sidewalk, and he was rushed to Lutheran General Hospital. The state initially charged the assailant with aggravated battery, but when the victim died, the charges were upgraded to first degree murder.
Understanding First Degree Murder
When people hear the charge of first degree murder they often focus on concepts like wantonness or premeditation, but in reality the requirements for first degree murder are much simpler. The Illinois criminal code states that a person commits first degree murder when they perform an act that causes a person’s death and they either intend to cause the person’s death or great bodily harm, or they know that their actions will cause the person’s death or great bodily harm, or they know that there is a high probability that their act will cause death or great bodily harm to another person. In this case, even the single punch thrown by the assailant could rise to the level of intent to cause great bodily harm.
However, simply having the intent to do great bodily harm does not necessarily, on its own, tell the full story. This is because the law also contains mitigating factors, circumstances that make the crime less serious because of their existence.
The law in Illinois codifies two specific circumstances that can reduce a first degree murder charge down to second degree murder. First, the charge can be reduced if the assailant, at the time of the killing, is “acting under a sudden and intense provocation” that was caused by the victim. Importantly, the provocation in such instances must be quite serious, and merely being insulted would not rise to the level of a mitigating factor. Instead, things like watching someone attack a loved one or being involved in a barroom brawl are often cited as possible scenarios that may count as provocation.
The other scenario that can result in a reduction to second degree murder is when a person commits first degree murder, but does so believing that they have a legal justification for doing so. For instance, if the person believes that they are acting in self-defense when they kill someone, but that belief is not reasonable, they still may have their first degree murder charge reduced to second degree murder.
If you or someone you love has been charged with a criminal offense, seek the help of an experienced Illinois criminal defense attorney today. Our firm can analyze your case, and help ensure that you and your interests are fairly represented in court. We represent clients in towns across the northwest suburbs including in Rolling Meadows, Schaumburg, and Palatine.
About the Author: Founding partner of Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC, Colin Gilbert, received his J.D. from Chicago-Kent College of law in 2005. Colin argues cases across many practice areas including criminal defense, collections, civil litigation, real estate law, and corporate law. Colin is an active member of the Board of Governors of the Northwest Suburban Bar Association and the Illinois Creditors Bar Association. He is currently Vice President of the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce, and is a Commissioner for the Village of Arlington Heights. Colin has a 10.0 Attorney rating on Avvo, and was named one of the 2014 “Top 40 Under 40” Trial Lawyers in Illinois by the National Trial Lawyers Association.