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Sentencing and penalties for second-degree murder

Individuals charged with second degree murder in Texas are innocent until proven guilty, and have rights to trial by jury and assistance of counsel, among others. If the accused individual is found not guilty at trial, the action is concluded. If the individual is found guilty, the case proceeds to sentencing. The law establishes several factors that a judge must consider in sentencing individuals convicted of second-degree murder.

Sentencing laws may establish a range of years or define the permissible punishments more vaguely, e.g., 15 years to life. Indeed, the federal second-degree murder law calls for imprisonment for a term of years or life, essentially deferring the question of sentencing to the courts. Some states have more specific guidelines, and some state laws call for minimum sentences only in certain types of second-degree murder cases, where the crime was committed against a law enforcement officer, for example.

Courts will also consider the presence of aggravating or mitigating factors in determining the proper sentence. In the federal system, the court may find an individual's criminal history or certain characteristics of the crime are aggravating factors and therefore increase the severity of the punishment. On the other hand, the court may reduce the sentence because of mitigating factors. If the defendant has taken responsibility for his or her role in the crime, for example, and is repentant, the court may lighten the sentence. The court may also consider such things as the defendant's childhood experiences and his or her prior civic contributions.

The specifics of the sentencing phase of a criminal trial depend heavily on the facts of the case, especially in murder cases. An attorney with experience in criminal cases may be able to provide assistance to a client who has been charged with second-degree murder by highlighting weaknesses in the prosecution's evidence. An attorney may also choose to negotiate a plea agreement with the prosecutor that would result in reduced penalties.

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