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What defenses are effective for second-degree murder?

A Baton Rouge defendant may agree to plead guilty or no contest, an acceptance of punishment but not blame, to criminal charges. Without one of these pleas, prosecutors are forced to prove beyond a jury's reasonable doubt that an illegal act was committed.

All criminal convictions carry consequences, but penalties are most severe for murder. Second-degree murder, under Louisiana law, is a death caused by an individual with the intent to inflict great bodily harm or kill. Punishment for second-degree murder is a lifetime prison sentence with no chance of parole.

Multiple defenses may be used to counter an accusation of second-degree murder, with claims of "not guilty" at the top of the list. The defense attorney may show a defendant could not have killed the victim, because he or she was not there. In the absence of an alibi, the defense could offer other proof the defendant did not commit the crime and concentrate upon flaws in the state's evidence.

In affirmative defenses, a defendant admits he or she killed the victim but had a legitimate reason for doing so. Murder charges may be reduced or cleared when a killing is committed in self-defense. This defense isn't as simple as claiming you were protecting yourself.

Laws vary over permissible arguments for self-defense. Generally, a defendant cannot claim self-defense if he or she provoked the victim or initiated actions that led to the killing. Self-defense also is dismissed when a defendant did not have an immediate "reasonable fear" that he or she would be severely harmed or die.

An insanity defense, unacceptable in some jurisdictions, must prove a defendant was mentally ill or otherwise incapacitated at the time of a killing and, simultaneously, was unaware of the difference between right and wrong. One or more of these defenses may be employed in a murder trial, but none is effective without evidence to support them.

Source: FindLaw, "Second Degree Murder Defenses" Sep. 23, 2014

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