Justification for First-Degree Murder Defenses

Posted by Alan Finkel on October 31st, 2022

This blog will examine some of the most common justifications, including self-defense, defense of others, and exercise of duty. There are more esoteric reasons, such as necessity or the choice of evils, but they rarely apply in homicide cases.


The most common justification for homicide is self-defense. To succeed, a defendant claiming self-defense must demonstrate that the killing was a reasonable use of force to avoid death or bodily harm. Only words or insults would not suffice.

The defendant could not have started the dangerous situation. The use of force is proportional to the perceived threat. Moreover, the defendant's response to the danger cannot take place after the threat of death, or bodily harm has ended.

Many states require the defendant to retreat or avoid danger in all possible ways before using deadly force. These states prohibit self-defense if it can demonstrate that the killer could have safely avoided the threat by retreating. States slightly differ in the extent to which they require an attempt to flee a threat, but no state requires fleeing a threat inside one's own home.

Others' Defense

The defense of others can also employ to justify. A defendant can argue in various ways that the murder of another person was justified and shouldn't be considered first-degree murder. A person can protect another person from harm if they reasonably believe that intervention is necessary and the person being aided has a legitimate self-defense claim. Force must use in a timely and proportional manner to the threat. If a threatened person was justified in using lethal force to protect themselves, someone else could use the same force to end the threat.

Emotional Distress or Duress

Some states allow defendants to claim that being under duress or experiencing extreme emotional distress reduces culpability and provides a partial defense to murder. Most regions allow a person to plea "provocation," claiming that the victim's actions instilled intense fear or anger in them, even if the killing was otherwise unjustifiable. This is a disturbing version of the "gay panic" or "trans panic" defense.

Duty Execution

Certain killings committed by law enforcement and other public officials are considered justified homicides. If an officer kills someone in the line of duty without malice, recklessness, or negligence, the killing is not considered murder, let alone first-degree murder.

Laws in states such as VA protect public officers and those acting under their command when a killing occurs as a result of an officer performing their legal duties, & they even not used the excessive force rather only performed their legal duty. It must be noted that there is no legal justification for using lethal force to resist law enforcement.

Get Legal Assistance for Your First-Degree Murder Defense

First-degree murder is the most serious crime a person can be charged with. The stakes are high, and the penalties can include life in prison or death. Get the best legal defense possible. Contact a local Criminal Defense Attorney in Richmond, VA, to learn more about how to defend against a first-degree murder charge.

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Alan Finkel

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Alan Finkel
Joined: August 16th, 2022
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