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What Is a Capital Crime


A capital crime is defined by the Mississippi Legislature as any crime/offense where the maximum punishment is either life imprisonment in the State Penitentiary or the death penalty. In Mississippi the death penalty is administered by lethal injection. Examples of capital crimes are capital murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, treason, and some rapes. The jury in armed robbery cases has the option to sentence the person convicted to life imprisonment, and if the jury fails to agree, the Court can sentence the person to any sentence expected to be less than life. For example, if a person is convicted and the jury does not sentence the person to life, the Court can look at a life expectancy table, and if the person has 40 years left to live, the judge can sentence up to 39 years.

Capital crimes are some of the most difficult to handle because of the severity of the punishment. They are also referred to as “crimes against the person.” Since they almost always involved violence they are cases that law enforcement devotes substantial resources to solve and prosecute. Nothing makes law enforcement and prosecutors more motivated than violent crimes. Sexual crimes against children are also considered violent crimes even if there is little or no violence as we think of that word. Crimes of violence, crimes against children, and several other types of crimes are also singled out and people convicted are not entitled to parole or early release.

Capital murder is a murder case that involves another crime. Many people do not understand that not every murder can result in the death penalty. In the legal world people often say the words “simple murder” to refer to a non-death penalty murder. An example may help explain this better. If one man just walk up and kills another it is murder and not capital murder. If a man gets mad and kills his wife it is murder, not capital murder. Murder in Mississippi carries only one sentence and that is life in the State prison. However, if a man robs someone, breaks into a house, kidnaps a person, or commits sexual battery on a child and during the course of the crime another person is killed, that is capital murder. There are about 9 crimes if I recall correctly and if someone dies while the crime is being committed, the person charged can be given the death penalty.

A Capital murder crime is unlike any other trial. Because of the irrevocable nature of the penalty, the Courts recognize that “death is different” and the person charged is afforded heightened review of the case if convicted and given the death penalty. Many people complain about how long it takes for death penalty appeals, but there is reason for the delays. If a mistake is made and the penalty imposed, there is no turning back after the man is executed. In the past decade about 212 people have been freed from death row by DNA evidence. These are people who were convicted and facing death. Had it not been for the exhaustive appeals, innocent people would have been executed.

A capital murder trial is conducted in two stages. The first stage is called the guilt or innocence stage. In this part the prosecution must prove the accused committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury does not find the accused guilty of the capital murder but finds the accused guilty of only murder, than he is sentenced to life and the case goes no further. If the person is convicted of capital murder, then the case goes into the sentencing phase of the trial. At this stage the prosecutor tries to convince the jury that the defendant deserves death. The prosecutor is limited to putting on what is called “aggravating factors.” These factors are listed in the statutory law. The defendant is permitted to put on any testimony he wants to convince the jury that he does not deserve the death penalty. The prosecution bears the burden in the sentencing phase just like in the guilt phase of the trial. In order for the defendant to receive the death penalty, all twelve people must agree. If all twelve do not agree then the Court sentences the defendant to life.

There is no case as difficult as a death penalty case because of the seriousness of the penalty. In the past I handled approximately 18 death penalty cases. I often worked alone or with my lawyer friend, William Bill Kirksey. At Coxwell & Associates we handle serious criminal cases, drug cases, white collar, and petty or misdemeanor cases. To many people a misdemeanor case is serious. No matter what the charge, we treat the case as a serious case. If you have a criminal charge, call for a consultation. Meet with the attorneys at Coxwell & Associates one time and you will feel the dedication of our attorneys.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.