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Premeditated Murder Is First Degree Murder
09 Sep 2016

Premeditated Murder Is First Degree Murder

Generally speaking, murder is when one person unlawfully kills another. In New Mexico, there are different degrees of murder, carrying different punishments, that depends on the person’s state of mind (mens rea), the manner in which the murder was committed (actus reus), the circumstances surrounding the act, and other factors. Since first degree murder, a capital felony in New Mexico, carries a severe punishment of life imprisonment with or without the possibility of parole after thirty years imprisonment, seek a knowledgeable premeditated first degree murder defense attorney to evaluate your case and strategize your best course of action.

Types of First Degree Murder

New Mexico codifies both first and second degree murder under NM Stat § 30-2-1.  First degree murder specifically is codified in NM Stat § 30-2-1(A).  There are actually three different sets of conduct that can result in first degree murder charges:

  1. Premeditated murder
  2. Felony murder
  3. Depraved mind which has no regard for human life

What is Premeditated Murder?

The first type of First Degree Murder, referred to in Common Law as “Premeditated Murder” is covered by NM Stat § 30-2-1 (A) (1), which states that:

Murder in the first degree is the killing of one human being by another without lawful justification or excuse, by any of the means with which death may be caused by any kind of willful, deliberate and premeditated killing.

Put another way, premeditated murder requires:

  • The death of a human being,
  • Caused by another without lawful justification or excuse,
  • Premeditation, and
  • An act designed to accomplish the death.

Clear as mud? No?  Let’s take out the legal mumbo jumbo and use some examples.  The first element, the death of a human being, is easy to understand.  But what is “premeditation?”  What makes an act “willful?”  Or “deliberate?”  And what is a “lawful justification or excuse?”  We’ll take each of these questions in turn.

“Willful, Deliberate, And Premeditated”

As a preliminary matter for comparison purposes, premeditated murder can be distinguished from the Common Law “Intent to Kill Murder”, also known as Second Degree Murder in New Mexico. NM Stat § 30-2-1 (B).  Intent to kill murders require that an actor either “knows that [his] acts create a strong probability of death or great bodily harm to that individual or another,” and the death of a human being.  The difference?  Second Degree murder lacks the element of “Willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing.”

“[I]f the [s]tate merely proves that the accused acted rashly or impulsively, rather than deliberately, and if the accused acted intentionally and without justification or provocation, then the facts would only support second-degree murder.”   State v. Adonis, 194 P.3d 717.  Think of the following two examples.  Tom and his business partner Dick are golfing.  While Dick is taking a particularly long time lining up a shot off the 6th tee, Tom can’t help but notice a lengthy text exchange on Dick’s phone.  The contents of the text exchange make it obvious that Dick is embezzling company funds.  If Tom’s reaction is to pull out a gun and shoot Dick, killing him, this would likely only rise to the level of second degree murder, with Tom’s decision to shoot Dick a rash and impulsive act.  “Premeditation, and a willful, deliberate act” looks different.

“The word deliberate means arrived at or determined upon as a result of careful thought and the weighing of the consideration for and against the proposed course of action.” UJI 14-201 NMRA.  In other words, imagine Tom sees the texts and says nothing.  He and Dick finish their 18 holes of golf and have drinks and dinner in the clubhouse. They go to their respective homes.  The next day, Tom brings a gun to the office.  He waits until their assistant, Harry, goes to lunch, before entering Dick’s office.  If Tom raises the gun, says to Dick, “I can’t believe you would steal from me.  I’ve been thinking about this for 12 hours.  You need to die!  There’s no other option.” and proceeds to shoot and kill Dick, these facts would evidence “careful thought” and “weighing of the consideration for and against” killing Dick.

In real life, of course, things are not quite so cut and dry.  In determining whether premeditation exists, rather than merely a rash or impulsive act, jurors need to evaluate the evidence, both direct and circumstantial.  Direct evidence of premeditation could be testimony about what Tom said just before he shot Dick.  Circumstantial evidence, on the other hand, could be the fact that Tom went out and bought a gun and ammunition immediately after dinner.

Typically in criminal cases, there is no one singular piece of evidence that proves the case.  Rather, jurors are asked to consider all of the evidence when determining the state of mind of the alleged killer.

“Lawful Justification or Excuse”

Is there ever a lawful justification or excuse for taking the life of another human being?   NM Stat § 30-2-1 provides that the conduct only rises to the level of murder if there is no “lawful justification or excuse.”  There are very limited lawful justifications for murder, but there are some.  For example, self-defense can be, under certain, very specific circumstances, a “lawful justification” for taking the life of another human being.

Defense of others can, in limited circumstances, be a “lawful justification for causing the death of another.”

Mental illness in and of itself is not an excuse for taking the life of another human being; however, New Mexico law does provide for mental illness as a defense in very limited circumstances.

Multiple Charges Of Murder

Is it possible to be charged with both first and second degree murder for the same course of conduct?  Yes.  Sometimes, a prosecutor isn’t certain that they have enough evidence to obtain a conviction for first degree murder, based on the facts presented, but certainly have a human being who is dead, and an act that can be attributed to the defendant that caused the death.  Sometimes the evidence could be interpreted in more than one way – one that would suggest premeditation and one that would suggest mere rash and impulsive behavior.  The jury is the ultimate finder of fact.  The evidence can be presented at trial, and the jury can make a decision, based on all the facts available to them.

Having an experienced premeditated first degree murder defense attorney in your corner is critical when charged with such a serious crime. Contact our tenacious attorneys at Twohig Law Firm for a free consultation at (505) 492-0509.


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