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Minnesota First-Degree Murder

First-degree murder is the most serious, most heinous type of murder charge. In Minnesota, many different types of killings can be considered first-degree murder, but all of them have aggravating (or responsibility or culpability increasing) factors. The killings that Minnesota law states deserve the most severe punishment include when the victim is a child or spouse who is continually abused at home or a witness or judge who is killed due to their official duties.

Sometimes, it’s the serious behavior of the defendant, such as committing a burglary, robbery, or sexual crime when the victim is killed that deserves harsher punishment. However, even most of these murders do require an intent to kill. Thus, first-degree felony-related murders are distinguished from the felony murder rule that also applies to some second-degree murder felony-related deaths.

Penalties and Sentencing

The death penalty has been abolished in Minnesota since 1911. Although from time-to-time a high profile murder brings a movement to re-enact the death penalty, it remains abolished. The most severe form of punishment Minnesota law authorizes is life imprisonment. This is the penalty if a defendant is found guilty of first degree murder.

Minnesota First-Degree Murder Statute

The following table outlines the first-degree murder law in Minnesota.

Code Section

Minnesota Statutes Section 609.185 – Murder in the First Degree

What’s Prohibited?

Minnesota law prohibits any intentional killing. However, some types of killings are more heinous than others, for those killings, first degree murder applies. Murder in the first degree applies for any of the following circumstances:

  • A premeditated (considered, planned, or prepared for before the act) killing with the intent to kill the person
  • Killing someone while committing or attempting criminal sexual conduct in the first or second degree with violence (rape or sexual assault)
  • Killing someone with the intent to kill someone while committing or attempting burglary, aggravated robbery, kidnapping, 1st or 2nd degree arson, a drive-by shooting, tampering with a witness (for example, killing the witness so he or she can’t testify), escaping from custody, or felony drug crimes
  • Killing a cop, prosecutor, judge, or correctional officer, with the intent to kill that person and while the person is engaging in his or her official duties
  • Killing a child during a child abuse incident, after having engaged in a pattern of child abuse on the child and the death occurs under circumstances that show an extreme indifference to human life
  • Killing someone while committing domestic abuse, after having engaged in a pattern of domestic abuse on the victim or other family or household members (such as current or former spouses, co-habitants, or dating/sexual partners) and, again, the death shows extreme indifference to human life
  • Causing anyone’s death while committing, conspiring, or attempting to commit a felony in furtherance of terrorism, that is to terrorize or intimidate the public and disrupt or interfere with the government or laws

Murder in the first degree is punished by life imprisonment in Minnesota.


The best defense to first-degree murder depends on the facts of the case. Some murder defenses are complete, meaning the person will be found not guilty if believed by the judge or jury. These complete defenses include innocence and, sometimes, insanity or “perfect” self-defense (that is, you needed to kill the person to defend yourself).

Other defenses can be only partial, so they only reduce the offense to a lower form of homicide, such as unreasonable self-defense or intoxication (which may get rid of the state of mind needed for first degree murder, but it could still be second degree murder or manslaughter).

Civil Case The family of a victim can sue the defendant for wrongful death, even if not convicted of the murder or manslaughter. This happened to O.J. Simpson. Simpson wasn't convicted of murdering his wife or her friend, but he did lose his wrongful death lawsuit. That’s because the civil case has a lower standard of proof of preponderance of the evidence (essentially more likely than not) rather than beyond a reasonable doubt which is needed for criminal cases.

If you're sued for a wrongful death, you should consult with an experienced personal injury defense attorney quickly.

Note: State laws change frequently, it's important to verify the laws you’re researching.

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