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Massachusetts First Degree Murder Law

First-Degree Murder in Massachusetts

In the Commonwealth, a person commits first-degree murder when he or she intentionally kills another person deliberately and with premeditation. First-degree murder can also happen when a person commits a serious felony and a death occurs. This is often referred to as "felony murder." For a charge of felony murder, the prosecutor doesn't need to prove that the killing was intentional, but merely a consequence of committing some other felony that is punishable by death or life imprisonment.

An example of a felony murder is when a defendant commits a bank robbery and accidentally shoots the security guard while trying to flee. He or she may not have meant to kill the guard, but it happened during a the comission of a serious felony.

Finally, if a homicide is exceptionally brutal or savage, a jury can convict a person under this law.

The following table highlights the main provisions of Massachusetts first-degree and felony murder laws. See also Voluntary Manslaughter, Involuntary Manslaughter, First Degree Murder Defenses, and First Degree Murder Penalties and Sentencing .

Code Sections

MGL Chapter 265, Section 1

What is Prohibited
  1. An unlawful killing that was committed
  2. deliberately with premeditation and malice aforethought, or
  3. a murder executed with extreme atrocity and cruelty (no premeditation, just malice aforethought), or
  4. a murder resulting from the commission of a crime punishable with death or imprisonment for life. (Felony Murder)
Felony Murder

A homicide (killing of a human) that takes place in conjunction with a certain felony crimes punishable by death or life in prison, such as robbery, burglary, etc.

Malice Aforethought Malice aforethought can include any intent to inflict a serious bodily injury or death upon another person.
Extreme Atrocity or Cruelty

A jury gets to decide if this element of the crime was present during the homicide. Various factors that juries can weigh on this element include:

  1. The amount of conscious suffering the victim experienced, and the defendant's disregard of the same;
  2. the degree of the victim's physical injuries;
  3. how many times the victim was struck with an instrument or weapon;
  4. the type of instrument(s) or weapons(s) used (including fists);
  5. Any other relevant information.

*The prosecution doesn't need to establish any deliberate premeditation. Just malice aforethought.

Civil Case

Possible wrongful death lawsuit


Maximum of life imprisonment life imprisonment without parole. All first degree murder convictions trigger an automatic appeal to the state Supreme Judicial Court.

If you do find yourself facing a first-degree murder charge in Massachusetts, you may wish to contact a criminal defense attorney for assistance.

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