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Illinois First Degree Murder Laws

First degree murder is the most serious of the homicide crimes in Illinois. In order to prove first degree murder, a prosecutor must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant killed an individual without lawful justification and either:

  • Intended to kill or do great bodily harm (or knew that the act would do so); or
  • Knew that the act created a strong probability of causing death or great bodily harm; or
  • Was attempting or committed a forcible felony other than second degree murder (i.e. rape).

Illinois first degree murder laws treat the offense as a very serious crime. The penalties involved are based on who the victim was and the circumstances surrounding the crime. Oftentimes in murder cases, courts will request a separate sentencing hearing where they can consider any aggravating and mitigating factors to determine what the appropriate penalties should be based on the circumstances of the crime.

Illinois First Degree Murder Laws at a Glance

The following table highlights the main provisions of Illinois's First Degree Murder statute.


Illinois Statutes Section 5/9-1 (first degree murder)

Penalties and Sentencing

Illinois is no longer a death penalty state so the maximum punishment for first degree murder is life imprisonment.

Before it was repealed in 2011, punishment in a capital murder case would be determined at a sentencing hearing during which the judge would hear evidence on aggravating and mitigating factors. Aggravating factors included such things as the victim's age or status as a law enforcement or correctional official, or if torture was involved. Mitigating factors included such things as the defendant's mental status or intoxication during the homicide.

At a sentencing hearing for capital punishment, a jury would have to unanimously agree that the death penalty should be recommended after weighing all aggravating and mitigating factors. If there was not a unanimous decision, the court would sentence the defendant to a term of imprisonment based on the circumstances of the case. Even if the jury unanimously recommended the death penalty, the court could still overturn the recommendation with a written explanation as to why it could not recommend death in a case.


Defenses include:

  • Lack of intent
  • Lack of knowledge
  • Insanity
  • Intoxication
  • Self-defense

Note: If none of the criteria are met for first degree murder, the defendant may still be found guilty of a lesser murder charge.

See First Degree Murder Defenses for more information.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Related Resources for Illinois First Degree Murder Laws

Charged With a Crime in Illinois? You'll Probably Want Legal Help

When it comes to homicide, there's a wide spectrum of possible crimes and punishments, ranging from a justified homicide with no penalties to first degree murder and life in prison. That's why it's so important to have an expert criminal defense attorney on your side. Don't delay; contact an experienced Illinois defense attorney today.

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