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I often read in the "papers" that a suspect is charged with multiple counts of the same crime. Latest example are the parents of Andrew Freund, according to this article, each parent is facing "five counts of first-degree murder".

They allegedly committed only one murder, where are the other 4 charges coming from? Isn't that a double jeopardy - getting changed multiple times for the same crime?

  • I didn't want to write out a whole answer, but the multiple charges come from the different statutes in Illinois. For example, if statute one says murder with a weapon is Class X Murder and statute two says murder of someone of a certain age is Class X Murder you get charged with both. It's so if you didn't meet some criteria of one law, like having a weapon, you don't get acquitted of murder because you still murdered someone under a certain age, or whatever the second criteria is. – Putvi Apr 24 at 20:28
  • If the defendant is convicted, would he be sentenced for each of the 5 counts? – ventsyv Apr 24 at 20:33
  • No, you aren't convicted of each. The jury would find you guilty of one and ignore the others. – Putvi Apr 24 at 20:35
  • The reason that you aren't convicted of each is that facts of the crimes would overlap and you would end up being punished twice for the same action, like you said. – Putvi Apr 24 at 20:53
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Here is the Illinois homicide statute. First degree murder is defined in 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)

A person who kills an individual without lawful justification commits first degree murder if, in performing the acts which cause the death: (1) he either intends to kill or do great bodily harm to that individual or another, or knows that such acts will cause death to that individual or another; or (2) he knows that such acts create a strong probability of death or great bodily harm to that individual or another; or (3) he is attempting or committing a forcible felony other than second degree murder.

One count could be killing with the intent to kill, and a separate count could be killing with the intent to do great bodily harm; there could be an attempt to commit a commit a forcible felony. The charges have to be specific, that is, you don't just say "A murdered B", you put together an allegation of particular acts that are covered by the first degree murder statute. If for example they only allege that the parents intended to kill their son and it is proven that they only intended to severely injure him, they would not be convicted. The prosecution has to notify the defendant of the theories of law to the effect that the accused committed murder, so this puts the defense on notice. Likewise, "intent to kill" is different from "strong probability of death", but both qualify as an element of murder. If they are found guilty on all charges, the convictions will probably be merged into a single conviction.

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Let's say there is plenty of convincing evidence that A killed B. In the USA, this could be first degree murder, second degree murder, manslaughter. Now let's say there is some evidence, but not necessarily enough for conviction, that it was first degree murder, and more evidence that it was second degree murder.

In that situation, A could be charged with first degree murder, second degree murder, and manslaughter. A would then be found guilty of the highest charge that is "proven beyond reasonable doubt".

Compare this to charging only with first degree murder: That would mean A must be either convicted of first degree murder, or set free. Now if the jury thinks there is plenty of evidence for second degree murder, but not enough to convict of first degree murder, they have the awful choice of setting a murderer free, or to convict him of something he is not guilty of. That's a situation you would want to avoid.

  • "Five counts of first-degree murder" (as in the question) is noticeably different from "one count of first-degree murder, one of second-degree, one of manslaughter..." I don't think British newspapers would get away with calling them the same; how does the American press work? – Tim Lymington supports Monica Apr 27 at 10:41

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