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What are common defenses to first-degree murder?

On Behalf of | Feb 20, 2023 | Firm News

Conviction on a first-degree murder charge means you could spend the rest of your life in prison.

You may think that this could never happen to you, since you would never intentionally kill someone, but false accusations of murder do happen. Alternatively, prosecutors sometimes overcharge someone with first-degree murder when a lesser charge is more appropriate.

First-degree murder requires intent

First-degree murder in Hawaii requires you to cause the death of someone else intentionally or knowingly. It is a felony and punishable by up to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

If you find yourself wrongfully charged with first-degree murder, do not lose hope. There are some common defenses available that may apply to your case.

The most important thing to remember is that first-degree murder requires the prosecution to prove intent, or that you meant to kill someone.

An accidental killing

A killing that happens by mistake, or involves behavior that, while highly likely to result in someone’s death, does not equal an intent to kill.

Killing someone by mistake can lead to a somewhat lesser charge of manslaughter. A manslaughter charge can also involve a killing that was the result of a mental or emotional disturbance.

You may have been in a situation where you were angry and got violent with someone, intending to harm them, but not to kill them. Without the intent to kill, a first-degree murder charge cannot stand.


Self-defense is another common defense to first-degree murder. You can use force to defend yourself or someone else.

However, the force must match the force the other person used. For example, you cannot respond to someone who punched you in the face by shooting them.

It is vital that you talk to an attorney immediately upon being charged. Anything you say to police officers can be used against you, and a criminal defense attorney can analyze your situation and determine what defenses are available to you.