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first degree murder

What Is ‘Extreme Indifference’ Murder?

A jury yesterday found James Holmes guilty on all murder counts in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting. Holmes killed 12 people in the shooting, and was charged with two murder counts for each: murder in the first degree after deliberation, and murder in the first degree with extreme indifference. But what is extreme indifference murder, and how does it differ from a standard first degree murder charge? Colorado Law and the Theater Shooting Colorado's homicide statutes define extreme indifference murder as knowingly causing the death of another "under circumstances evidencing an attitude of universal malice manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life generally," while the defendant was "engaged in conduct which created a grave risk of death to a person or persons other than himself." The charge is reserved for severe crimes and refers as much to the defendant's intent as to the result. Holmes opened fire on 400 moviegoers, firing 76 shots into the crowded theater and hitting a total of 70 people. Once the jury decided that Holmes wasn't insane at the time of the shooting, it is a short step to decide he acted with an extreme indifference to human life. Extreme Indifference and Depraved Heart Laws Other states have extreme indifference or depraved heart murder laws, and in some states acting with extreme indifference can be an aggravating factor in assault or manslaughter charges. In fact, Baltimore Police Officer Caesar R. Goodson, Jr. was charged with second degree depraved heart murder in the homicide of Freddie Gray. Goodson was driving the van when Gray suffered a fatal spinal injury. Often, it is easier for prosecutors to prove extreme indifference, because they don't need to demonstrate a specific intent to kill a particular person, only conduct that creates a risk of death to any other person or persons. The idea behind the laws is to deter excessively dangerous behavior and provide for additional punishment for wanton crimes. Related Resources: James Holmes Faces 142 Charges in CO Theater Shooting (FindLaw Blotter) What Is Intent to Kill? How Do You Prove It? (FindLaw Blotter) First Degree Murder Overview (FindLaw) Colorado First-Degree Murder (FindLaw)
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James Holmes Guilty in Colorado Movie Theater Shooting

A jury has found James Holmes guilty in killing 12 people and wounding 58 others. Holmes opened fire on a crowd during a showing of The Dark Knight in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater in 2012. The jury, selected from 9,000 possible candidates and short four members who had previously been dismissed, came to the verdict after just over a day of deliberation. The jury also found Holmes guilty of attempted murder and assorted weapons charges. Jury Found the Insanity Defense Unconvincing Holmes had argued that he was insane at the time of the shooting, and it was up to the state to prove he knew the nature of the crime and could distinguish between right and wrong at the time the crime was committed. By finding Holmes guilty on all first degree murder and murder with extreme indifference charges, the jury clearly found his insanity defense unconvincing. Holmes' psychiatrist also came under fire after the shooting, and was criticized for not adequately warning law enforcement regarding Holmes' violent inclinations. Will James Holmes Face the Death Penalty? While capital punishment is available in Colorado, the state has only executed one person in the last 37 years. In this case, however, prosecutors sought the death penalty and now that Holmes has been found guilty, the court will move on to the penalty phase of his trial. During the penalty phase, attorneys from both sides will present evidence as to the proper punishment. Like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev before him, Holmes will be arguing against the death penalty and will likely put his mental state at issue again. If he is not given the death penalty, he will likely be sentenced to life in prison. There are currently three people on death row in Colorado, including Nathan Dunlap, who was convicted of murdering four people at a Chuck E. Cheese in 1994. Related Resources: James Holmes Found Guilty of Murder in Aurora Theater Shooting Trial (ABC News) 'Dark Knight' Shooting in CO: 12 Dead, 50 Hurt (FindLaw Blotter) For James Holmes, Death Penalty is Far from a Certainty (FindLaw Blotter) Death Row Appeals: Rights and Limitations (FindLaw Blotter)
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When Can a DUI Be Charged as Murder?

Drunken driving crashes can often be fatal, elevating a simple DUI to a full-blown murder charge. Case in point: A drunken driver in Colorado accused of killing a 17-year-old boy in an accident Monday is now facing a first-degree murder charge for his alleged actions, reports The Denver Post. Ever Olivos-Gutierrez, 40, lacks a drivers license and has incurred "numerous" DUIs prior to Monday's fatal crash. So when can a DUI be charged as murder? Extreme Facts Call for Severe Charges In a DUI crash that involves a death, prosecutors may have the option of charging a suspect with first-degree felony murder. In most states, if a suspect caused the death of a person while committing a dangerous felony, that person can be charged with a crime called "felony murder." In states like Colorado, these dangerous felonies include arson, robbery, burglary, kidnapping, sexual assault, or fleeing from police. Even if a fatal DUI is not eligible for a felony murder charge, it could potentially qualify as conduct that is extremely indifferent to human life. Drivers deemed to have acted so recklessly and with indifference to the risk to human life can also be charged with murder. These murder charges are also known as "depraved heart" murders. In the Colorado case, Olivos-Gutierrez is facing a murder charge for his DUI crash under a similar legal theory. Prosecutorial Discretion Most states give prosecutors the option to charge DUI offenders who cause fatalities with something less than murder. For example, involuntary manslaughter charges can apply to any person who caused another's death while performing a reckless or dangerous act that was a known risk to human life. It is not difficult for prosecutors to prove that driving while intoxicated is such a lethal risk, so involuntary manslaughter can be much easier to prove than murder for drunken drivers. Many states even have vehicular manslaughter charges which relate directly to deaths caused by reckless action (including intoxication) behind the wheel. Prosecutors in DUI fatality cases have the option to push for murder charges or a manslaughter or DUI charge. The prosecution can offer a plea bargain or even drop charges depending on the defendant's criminal history, willingness to cooperate, or lack of evidence. On the other hand, prosecutors also have the option to pursue murder charges for defendants with extensive criminal records, lack of remorse, or extensive evidence of wrongdoing. In any case, DUI murder charges are serious, and a criminal defense attorney can explain how and when they would apply. Related Resources: Do You Get a Public Defender for a DUI Case? (FindLaw's Blotter) Is Teen's 'Affluenza' DWI Sentence Too Lenient? (FindLaw's Blotter) 3 Ways a Misdemeanor DUI Can Become a Felony (FindLaw's Blotter) Breathalyzer Test Results: Are They Reliable? (Katz Lawyers)
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When Can Teens Be Tried as Adults?

When can teenagers be tried as adults? Teens are often responsible for serious crimes, and in many cases they can face the same punishments as adults. The decision to try a teen as an adult varies by state, but generally each state considers the following factors: 1. How Serious Is the Alleged Crime? Serious crimes committed by teens can mandate transferring their cases to adult criminal court. This transfer is called a juvenile waiver, and it typically won't occur unless a serious crime has been committed. For example, in Texas, a child who may have otherwise been tried in juvenile court may be tried as an adult for any felony offense so long as there is: Probable cause to believe the child committed the offense, and The juvenile court believes that the seriousness of the crime or the child's background requires adult criminal proceedings. Capital crime charges like first degree murder often make a teen eligible to be tried as an adult, but many states limit even these cases by the age of the child. 2. Minimum, Maximum Age Limits. For most states, minors may be tried as adults unless they are younger than a certain age. The majority of states will not allow a child who's 13 or younger to be tried as an adult. In California, for example, the minimum age in most cases for a transfer from juvenile to adult criminal court is 14. Teens 14 years or older are not automatically tried as adults in California unless they commit certain heinous crimes. Other states have a lower maximum age for children to be tried in juvenile court. New York has notably tried most 16- and 17-year-olds as adults for all crimes, even for minor offenses like shoplifting. The New York Daily News reports that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has plans to raise this age limit to allow more teens to be tried in juvenile court, but the issue is far from settled. 3. Judicial or Prosecutorial Discretion. Under many states' laws, a juvenile court judge must decide whether a case should be transferred to criminal court. In addition to a child's age and the crime's severity, a judge may consider the circumstances of the accused act and the child's home life. A prosecutor may also have the discretion to either pursue or decline to try a teen as an adult, much in the way they can drop charges against adults. Related Resources: Teens to be tried as adults for alleged 'heinous' Marysville kidnapping (Sacramento, California's KCRA-TV) 10 Illegal Activities Your Kids May Be Up To (FindLaw's Blotter) Man to Be Tried for Murder for Childhood Crime (FindLaw's Blotter) Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw's Blotter)
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What Is a Retrial? When Can You Get One?

What is a retrial, and who is entitled to one? Retrials are in the news this week. Convicted Arizona murderer Jodi Arias will be retried, but only to determine her punishment for killing her boyfriend in 2008; jury selection is set to begin September 8, The Associated Press reports. And in another high-profile case, Michael Dunn, the Florida man who allegedly shot and killed unarmed teenager Jordan Davis over loud music, will be retried for murder beginning May 5, the AP reports. So how do retrials work in our criminal justice system? What Is a Retrial? A retrial is quite literally a second (or third) trial on an issue that has already been tried. In Jodi Arias' case, jurors were unable to reach a verdict on how she should be punished, so an entirely new jury will need to hear the facts of the case in order to make the same determination. In most cases, a retrial is ordered because a judge has declared a mistrial, or a reason why the current trial must be considered invalid. A mistrial can occur because of something as innocent as a hung jury or something more malicious like juror misconduct. Sometimes a case will be appealed and then overturned by an appellate court, which will then order a retrial in order to have the facts heard in accordance with its ruling. In every other way, a retrial is just like a normal trial. And assuming there is no reason to challenge the trial court's findings, the conclusion of a retrial will be the final word on the case. Who Gets a Retrial? In order for there to be a retrial, there must be a legitimate reason for the original trial to be declared invalid. Like with Jodi Arias, a hung jury is a very common reason to declare a mistrial, but the retrial will only need to cover issues of fact where the jury was not unanimous. Since the Arias jury already unanimously voted to convict her of murder, the retrial will only cover the issue of punishment -- not guilt or innocence. That's different from the case of Michael Dunn, who will be retried on the charge of first degree murder. Dunn has already been convicted of attempted murder and weapons charges, but a new jury will hear evidence that Dunn should be convicted of murder for Jordan Davis' killing. In many cases, like Dunn's, the decision to seek a retrial is up to the prosecution, who can decide whether or not to drop the case. To learn more about criminal procedure and the justice system, check out FindLaw's comprehensive section on Criminal Law. Related Resources: Arizona jury to consider again death penalty for Jodi Arias in September (Reuters) When Can You Get a New Trial? (FindLaw's Blotter) Lies in Jury Selection May Lead to New Trial (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Kennedy Cousin Michael Skakel to Get New Trial (FindLaw's Blotter)
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SXSW Crash Kills 2; Alleged Drunken Driver Arrested

An alleged drunken driving crash at SXSW claimed two lives and injured about two dozen people after a car barreled into a crowd Thursday morning. Austin, Texas, Police Chief Art Acevedo told CNN that an unnamed male suspect is in custody facing two counts of capital murder and 23 counts of aggravated assault by vehicle for plowing into the crowd at the South by Southwest festival. What will prosecutors have to prove in order to convict, and what legal options may be available for victims of the crash? Driver Faces Serious Criminal Charges The driver responsible for killing two and putting at least 23 in the hospital was allegedly intoxicated and fleeing police when he collided with the SXSW crowd. According to CNN, the two persons who were killed in the crash were riding their light motorcycles (read: scooters) when the allegedly drunken driver hit them. Under Texas law, causing the death of a person while committing a felony is first degree murder. Since the unnamed driver is also alleged to have caused the death of the two SXSW attendees, he could potentially face the death penalty. In addition to the threat of capital punishment, the man accused of injuring at least 23 people is facing 23 corresponding aggravated assault charges. Aggravated assault is applied when there are serious bodily injuries, and CNN reports that some of the injured are in critical condition. Even without the two capital murder charges, the allegedly drunken driver could be facing anywhere from 46 to 460 years in prison. Civil Lawsuits Possible The criminal charges facing the driver aren't the only way his victims will find justice -- he can also face lawsuits in civil court. The families and loved ones of the two persons killed in the SXSW crash can certainly file wrongful death charges against the man alleged to have run over the two. The 23 survivors (and any others injured by the crash) can potentially sue the drunken driver for battery, and can hope to collect damages for any medical bills or associated costs stemming from their injuries. These civil suits will likely be put on hold until the suspect's criminal charges have been resolved. If he is convicted for the assaults and murders, then the victims should easily obtain a civil judgment against him. Given the extent of the injuries and damages, however, it is unclear whether the suspected killer will have the money to pay for these judgments. Related Resources: 2 dead after car crashes into SXSW crowd (The Austin American-Statesman) In Car v. Bike Crashes, Why Are Charges So Rare? (FindLaw's Blotter) Mars Heiress Charged in Fatal Crash (FindLaw's Blotter) Dad Gets 90 Years for DUI Crash; 5 Kids Killed (FindLaw's Blotter)
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After Michael Dunn Mistrial, State Wants Retrial

In Florida's so-called "loud music murder trial," defendant Michael Dunn was found guilty on four of five counts late Saturday. But jurors failed to reach a verdict on his first-degree murder charge, resulting in a mistrial. After the verdict, State Attorney Angela Corey vowed to retry Dunn on the first-degree murder charge, defending the state's decision to apply the hefty charge in the first place, Jacksonville's WJXX/WTLV-TV reports. What will a mistrial on one charge mean for Dunn? What Is a Mistrial? Put simply, a mistrial is declared whenever something occurs during the trial which makes it unable to be completed. A mistrial can occur for a number of reasons, such as: A hung jury; A medical issue with a lawyer, judge, juror, or defendant; or Juror misconduct. In Dunn's case, jurors were hung on the charge of first-degree murder for the death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. In order to find Dunn guilty for this grave charge, jurors would have to unanimously find that with premeditation, Dunn intentionally shot and killed Davis. Jurors couldn't reach a verdict on this charge, although they did manage to find Dunn guilty of three counts of attempted second-degree murder and one weapons charge. Assistanct State Attorney Erin Wolfson affirmed that each second-degree murder charge carries a mandatory 20-year sentence, totaling at least 60 years in prison, WJXX/WTLV reports. Retrial for First-Degree Murder Although Corey believes the state did not "overcharge," WJXX/WTLV reports she will consult with the victims' families before pursuing a retrial. Prosecutors like Corey are ethically bound to only move forward on charges which they know are supported by probable cause, which prevents them from filing extra charges for which there is no evidence. If the state does move forward on a Dunn's first-degree murder retrial, it would need to put on its entire case again before a new jury. With only one charge to focus on in a retrial, the prosecution may be able to present more specific evidence and arguments relating to first degree murder. Regardless of the possibility for a retrial, WJXX/WTLV reports that Dunn is set to appear for sentencing on his four convictions on March 24. Related Resources: Jury Reaches Partial Verdict in Florida Killing Over Loud Music (The New York Times) Fla. Loud Music Murder Case in Jury's Hands (FindLaw's Blotter) Jodi Arias Mistrial: New Jury to Decide Penalty (FindLaw's Blotter) Jodi Arias Trial: 3rd Juror Excused (FindLaw's Blotter)
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Michael Dunn’s Charges: What Jurors Are Debating

The fate of Michael Dunn, the Florida man facing a murder charge for a fatal argument over loud music, hangs in the balance of a jury currently in the throes of deliberations. What are they debating? A variety of charges. Dunn, 47, is charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Jordan Davis, an unarmed 17-year-old boy. However, the judge told jurors that they can also consider lesser charges including second degree murder, manslaughter, justifiable homicide, or excusable homicide, ABC News reports. Here's a breakdown of the various charges: First degree murder. When considering first degree murder -- which entails premeditated, intentional killings and felony murder -- the jury will vigorously debate the degree of Dunn's intent when carrying out the killing. To convict Dunn of first degree murder, the jury must find that Dunn planned and intentionally carried out the killing. If his intent didn't rise to that level of premeditation, the jury will need to turn to the lesser charges. Second degree murder. In order to find Dunn guilty of second degree murder, a jury would have to find that he acted with a depraved indifference to human life, a much lesser level of intent than first degree murder because it includes unplanned killings. However, this charge can also be tricky because it requires the jury to make a sort of moral judgment. Manslaughter. In stark contrast to murder, manslaughter only asks that jurors find Dunn was either reckless or not justified by the circumstances in killing Jordan Davis. Justifiable homicide. Florida's justifiable homicide law -- commonly known as "Stand Your Ground" -- allows for a self-defense killing if a person reasonably fears death or serious bodily injury. Like George Zimmerman -- who claimed that he killed Trayvon Martin, a similarly unarmed 17-year-old, in self defense -- Dunn also did not request a "Stand Your Ground" hearing to receive immunity from prosecution. But the law's principles were still allowed to be used during Dunn's trial and jury instructions. Excusable homicide. In Florida, a homicide is excusable when it's committed by accident without any unlawful intent, by accident in the heat of passion, upon sudden and sufficient provocation, or upon a sudden combat, but only without any dangerous weapon being used and not being done in a cruel or unusual manner. In addition to the murder charge for Jordan Davis' killing, Michael Dunn is also charged with three counts of attempted murder. If convicted, Dunn faces the possibility of life in prison. Related Resources: Mens Rea - A Defendant's Mental State (FindLaw) Fla. Man Shoots, Kills Teen Over Loud Music (FindLaw's Blotter) Trayvon's Mom: Clarify 'Stand Your Ground' Laws (FindLaw's Blotter) PS4 Shooting Suspect Could Face Murder Charge (FindLaw's Blotter)
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