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North Carolina First Degree Murder Laws

The most serious homicide charge a defendant can face is first degree murder, commonly known as premeditated murder. But any killing -- even accidental -- that occurs during the commission of a felony (such as robbery or arson) also may be charged as first degree murder in most states, including North Carolina. Under North Carolina's first degree murder laws, convicted individuals may be sentenced to life in prison or even death by lethal injection.

North Carolina first degree murder laws are summarized in the table below. See FindLaw's Homicide and Death Penalty sections and the links at the end of this article for additional information and resources.

Code Section

North Carolina General Statutes section 14-17: Murder in the first and second degree defined; punishment

Definition of the Crime

First degree murder is causing the death of another person in one of the following manners:

  • By means of a weapon of mass destruction;
  • By poison, lying in wait, imprisonment, starving, torture, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing;
  • In the perpetration or attempted perpetration of any arson, rape or a sex offense, robbery, kidnapping, burglary, or other felony committed or attempted with the use of a deadly weapon.

Classifications/ Penalties

First degree murder is a Class A felony. The sentence a defendant receives depends on the facts of the case, but first degree murder is punishable by the death penalty or life in prison without parole.


Individuals facing murder prosecution should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney for advice and to develop the best legal strategy based on the unique facts of the case. Part of the legal strategy may include asserting one of several defenses to first degree murder:

  • Insanity;
  • Mistaken identity;
  • Self-defense;
  • Killing committed in heat of passion (in which the crime would be charged as voluntary manslaughter); and
  • Actual innocence

Death Penalty Possible?

Yes. Under certain circumstances, individuals convicted of first degree may be sentenced to death by lethal injection.

First degree murder is a serious criminal offense and individuals facing murder charges should contact a North Carolina criminal defense attorney for assistance. If suspects cannot afford to hire an attorney, they may be able to get representation from the Office of Indigent Defense Services.

Research the Law

North Carolina First Degree Murder Laws: Related Resources

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