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Being arrested and charged with an allegation of Murder in the First Degree carries the potential to forever change a life.  Personal relationships and individual freedom are very much literally on the line. However, it’s important to understand the paramount rule of the US criminal justice system: an arrest isn’t the same as a conviction, and you’re not guilty unless a prosecutor proves it beyond a reasonable doubt. 

There are several defenses to murder, and one or more of them may present a strong strategy for fighting the charges – or reducing them to a lesser crime. Time is of the essence to discuss your circumstances with a Minnesota homicide defense attorney.  You have a greater advantage when you retain legal representation as early as possible in the criminal proceedings.

Some important information on your defense options may also help you understand that your situation is possibly not as grim as you think.

Attack the Prosecution’s Allegations

Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is an extremely heavy burden for the prosecutor, who must establish every essential element of first-degree murder, including:

  1. A willful intent to take a human life; and,
  2. Premeditated deliberation to kill, which could range from a split-second thought to a long period of planning.

In addition, Minnesota’s statute covers a wide range of conduct generally categorizes as the “felony murder” rule.  The State of Minnesota can file a first-degree murder charge if someone is killed during the commission or attempted commission of a separate felony, even if the death wasn’t intended.

The first line of attack in fighting murder charges is gathering as much information to refute one or both of the elements that the prosecutor must establish. An inkling of a doubt or question in the minds of the jury could result in an acquittal. 

Defenses to Murder

Though you may be unsuccessful in disproving the allegations as set forth by the prosecution, you still have ample opportunity when it’s your turn to present your case-in-chief. There are multiple options available as “complete” defenses, which means you’re acquitted if you’re successful.


This falls under Minnesota’s statute on Authorized Use of Force, which allows a reasonable amount of force under certain circumstances. You could be able to beat first-degree murder charges if you were trying to protect yourself from the victim. 

To claim self-defense in a first-degree murder case, you need to show:

  1. That you didn’t engage in any aggression yourself;
  2. You believed that you were in imminent danger of being killed or sustaining great bodily harm;
  3. Your belief was reasonable under the circumstances; AND,
  4. There was no opportunity for you to retreat to a safe location where you could avoid the threat.

With respect to #4, you may recognize this element as a “stand your ground” concept, a rule which Minnesota does NOT follow. This is why you have a duty to retreat from the violent encounter before using deadly force. If you’re unable to get away, only then can you engage in deadly force and claim self-defense to fight the charges.

The Innocence of the Underlying Felony

In a case where you’re charged with felony murder for killing someone in connection with committing a felony, there’s a defense if you’re not guilty of the underlying crime.


This defense is closely associated with the intent element of a first-degree murder charge. You need to prove that you suffer from some medical condition that:

  • Renders you unable to understand what you were doing;
  • Makes you incapable of knowing right from wrong;
  • Leads you to act on uncontrollable impulses; or,
  • A combination of all these issues.

In addition, you should keep in mind that there are other defenses that are partial in nature. This means that you don’t completely beat the charges and gain an acquittal. Instead, successful use of the defense means you can have the charges lowered, such as to Murder in the Second or Third Degree. 

Schedule a Consultation with a Minnesota Murder Defense Lawyer Right Away

For more information on defenses to murder and potential strategies for fighting the charges, please contact the Criminal Defense Attorneys at Arechigo & Stokka, P.A. to speak with our criminal defense lawyer. 

You can set up a free consultation at our St. Paul, MN office by calling 651-222-6603 or visiting our website. Our attorneys fight for the rights of clients throughout Minnesota and North Dakota in both federal and state court, so we’re prepared to take on your defense.

Author Photo John T. Arechigo, Esq.

Attorney John Arechigo has a passion for criminal defense in St. Paul, MN. John received his J.D., from Hamline University School of Law and also carries a Bachelor of Arts from, The University of Minnesota. John was named Attorney of the Year for 2019 by Minnesota Lawyer. Additionally, John was also named as a 2019 Rising Star and was selected to Minnesota Super Lawyers in 2021. He devotes nearly 100% of his practice to defending individuals charged with a crime.

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