As previously discussed, DC law recognizes two types of murder offenses: First Degree Murder (FDM) and Second Degree Murder (SDM).  FDM and SDM convictions carry the highest penalties under the law and, under certain circumstances, the penalties can be enhanced to almost double the prison sentence. A Washington, D.C. criminal defense attorney will know how to navigate this tricky sentencing structure.

If convicted of FDM, you will be sentenced to anywhere from between 30 years to life in prison. However, you have the possibility of early release.  SDM on the other hand, does not require a minimum sentence but you could face up to life in prison with the possibility of early release if convicted.


But that’s not all.  While the above mentioned penalties are the norm, DC law allows for enhanced penalties if either FDM or SDM were committed “while armed.”  Armed means you committed the crime with a pistol or other firearm or any other dangerous weapon.

If convicted of either FDM or SDM while armed, there is a 5-year mandatory minimum prison sentence. These 5 years are tacked on to your sentence in addition to the original penalties you face for FDM and SDM.  As far as maximum punishment goes for the “while armed” enhancement, you could face up to life in prison without the possibility of early release.  This means that if you are convicted of FDM or SDM while armed, you could spend the rest of your life in prison without ever having the chance to get out.

Similar to enhancements, the law recognizes certain aggravating factors that have the effect of increasing the penalties for FDM and SDM convictions.  These factors concern why and how the crime happened, and who the crime was against.

First, aggravating factors address aspects of the defendant’s behavior before the offense took place. Examples of aggravating factors are if the offense was committed after a substantial amount of planning or if you hired someone to commit the murder.  Additionally, aggravating factors are concerned with the defendant’s behavior during the offense like whether the murder happened while avoiding arrest or while during the commission of another felony such as robbery, arson, or rape.

Second, aggravating factors may also involve the surrounding circumstances of the offense. A first or second degree murder that was the result of a drive-by or random shooting or during the commission of a kidnapping will usually incur enhanced penalties. The law also allows for enhanced penalties for a murder that was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel.

Finally, aggravating factors may address the victim’s personal characteristics.  Aggravating factors are present if the offense was committed because of the victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression; or if the offense was committed because the victim was helping an investigation or acting as a witness.  Further, penalties may be enhanced if the victim was below the age of 12 or above the age of 60, or vulnerable due to mental or physical infirmity.

If any of these aggravating factors existed during the commission of FDM, the court could sentence you to 60 years to life without the possibility of release–double the prison term the for an FDM conviction without an aggravating factor.  For an SDM conviction involving an aggravating factor, the court could sentence you up to 40 years.  However, you would still have the possibility of early release.

In the unfortunate event that you are arrested for first or second degree murder, it is essential that you hire a skilled DC Homicide attorney.  Attorney Gretchen Taylor Pousson can never guarantee the outcome of a case, but can guarantee that he will take every step necessary to protect your liberty.

If you or someone you know has been charged with murder or any other serious offense, contact criminal defense lawyer Gretchen Taylor Pousson immediately for a full consultation.