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The penalties for homicide charges depend on the facts surrounding the crime, including the defendant’s prior record and the type of victim, with a maximum state penalty of life in prison. In Massachusetts, the death penalty was abolished in 1984. However, the death penalty is still a possible sentence where murder charges are prosecuted as a federal crime.

The general penalties for homicide are as follows:

  • Murder faces the harshest possible penalties, with up to life in prison. For first-degree murder, there is no possibility of parole without the governor’s intervention.
  • Manslaughter is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $1,000 fine. If manslaughter involves an incendiary device, explosion, or chemical weapon, the penalties are enhanced, with a possible life term in prison.
  • Attempted murder is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $1,000 fine

In addition to prison time and fines, a defendant may face additional civil penalties for wrongful death, often brought by surviving family members of the deceased.


Under Massachusetts law, homicide is the unlawful killing of another person, which encompasses the crimes of murder and manslaughter. In most cases, accidents are not considered homicide, unless the person charged was acting in a negligent or reckless manner.

  • First-Degree Murder – Is the most serious homicide charge, which is committed with premeditated malice or with extreme cruelty or atrocity.
  • Second-Degree Murder – Is distinguished by the lack of a premeditation requirement. A death that occurred as part of a different felony crime such as robbery, rape, or another serious crime, can be charged as first- or second-degree murder. This is known as felony murder.
  • Manslaughter – Involuntary manslaughter involves the unlawful killing of another person as the result of reckless conduct or during the commission of a battery. Voluntary manslaughter, however, is a common law crime and involves some sort of mitigating circumstances to reduce the crime down from murder, such as a “heat of passion” claim.
    Felony Murder – For first-degree felony murder to apply, the death has to occur in the commission, or attempted commission, of a crime punishable by life imprisonment. This could include arson, kidnapping, rape, or burglary.
  • Second-degree felony murder involves the death of another in the course of a felony, which is punishable by less than life in prison. Even if a co-criminal dies in the commission of the felony crime, the surviving suspect may be charged with their death as a felony murder charge.
  • Attempted Murder – Even where no one is killed, a defendant can be charged with attempted murder. Attempted murder requires the intent to commit murder with the defendant taking an overt act towards committing murder by poisoning, drowning, strangling, or any other means not constituting an assault. Talking about killing someone is not enough to show attempted murder. The prosecution must prove that the defendant took some physical action towards completing the act.


The available defenses to a murder or homicide charge will depend on the facts and circumstances surrounding the case. Homicide charges may be prosecuted using physical evidence attempting to link the defendant to the crime scene. However, some of the evidence, such as fingerprints, hair, or blood samples may be compromised during the police investigation, making that evidence unreliable.

Other defenses include showing a lack of intent, mistaken identity, self-defense, or demonstrating some mitigating circumstances. An experienced legal team with a successful history of defending clients charged with murder or manslaughter will be able to clarify the issues facing the client. Our skilled homicide defense lawyers in Boston will identify the elements required for the prosecution to prove their case and defend our client against all charges.

Call us today at 617 880-6155 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation with our experienced murder defense attorneys in Boston.


Have you or a family member been charged or arrested? It’s important not to make mistakes early on in your case. Download our PDF on the top 3 things to do to help your defense or if you have been arrested by the State Police or FBI or you are the subject of an FBI Arrest Warrant.

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Heading up the firm, Vikas Dhar is widely recognized as a leader in the New England legal community. An accomplished business litigator and a “Top 40 Under 40” criminal defense attorney, he has also been honored as a New England Super Lawyer/Rising Star in the area of White-Collar Criminal Defense for each of the past six years by Boston Magazine.

I have the power and the skill to be able to save people from themselves. I can be your guide during the darkness. I can hold your hand and navigate you out of the darkness into the light.

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