By Carlos Gamino

In the state of Wisconsin, homicide is classified in degrees – and the most serious homicide charges are first-degree. Technically, first-degree murder is called first-degree intentional homicide under Wisconsin law – but what is it, and what are the penalties of a conviction? This guide explains.

What is First-Degree Murder in Wisconsin?

First-degree murder is the crime of causing “the death of a human being with intent to kill that person or another.” The key with first-degree murder is intent. You must have intended to kill the person (or someone else). That means if the death was an accident and you didn’t mean to kill anyone, the state can’t say that you’re guilty of first-degree murder.

It’s the state’s responsibility that you intended to kill the victim (or someone else). That means the prosecutor has to show beyond a reasonable doubt that you knew what you were doing and wanted your actions to result in another person’s death.

Related: What’s the difference between first- and second-degree homicide in Wisconsin?

What Happens if You’re Convicted of First-Degree Murder?

First-degree intentional homicide is a Class A felony in Wisconsin. Class A felonies are the most serious crimes in Wisconsin, and if you’re convicted, the judge will sentence you to the rest of your life in prison. (If you were convicted of second-degree intentional homicide, the judge could sentence you to up to 60 years in prison – but with a Class A felony, the only option is life in prison.)

Can You Get First-Degree Intentional Homicide Changed to Second-Degree Intentional Homicide?

In some cases, attorneys are able to successfully negotiate with prosecutors to get a first-degree intentional homicide charge dropped to a second-degree intentional homicide charge. Generally, there are four mitigating circumstances that create a difference in the severity of the crime:

  1. Adequate provocation. That means the person committed the crime while being provoked in a way that made them lose their self-control in a way that an ordinary person would. A “crime of passion” is an example of adequate provocation.
  2. Unnecessary defensive force. If the defendant believed that they (or someone else) was in imminent danger of death or serious injury and used force to defend themselves (or someone else), but the force was excessive, this may apply.
  3. Prevention of a felony. If the defendant believed that using force was necessary to prevent or stop a felony, but the belief was actually unreasonable, this mitigating circumstance may apply.
  4. Coercion or necessity. If the defendant was threatened in a way that they felt killing someone was the only way to save themselves (or someone else), they were coerced. If the defendant reasonably believed they needed to kill another person to prevent serious physical harm to themselves (or someone else), a disaster or death, this mitigating circumstance may apply.

Do You Need to Talk to an Attorney About First-Degree Intentional Homicide?

If you or someone you care about has been accused of first-degree intentional homicide, you may need to speak with an experienced Wisconsin criminal defense attorney right away. Call our office at 414-383-6700 to schedule a consultation – it may be the best choice you’ve ever made.

Attorney Carlos Gamino