You may have had a general idea of where your life was heading, or you may have planned to just take life as it comes. However, a tragic turn of events may have left you with an uncertain future, especially if those events led to the death of someone else. If authorities are pointing the finger of blame at you, you may be facing serious criminal charges.

If suspicions and evidence against you have resulted in charges of first-degree murder, you have no time to lose in building a solid criminal defense strategy. To begin with, it is important to understand exactly what the prosecution must prove to convict you, along with the severity of the potential penalties for first-degree murder.

What am I up against?

Each state decides how it will punish certain crimes. Often, these are statutes for the courts to use as guides during the sentencing phase, but in some cases, the court has no leeway and must abide by the mandatory sentences. North Carolina is among those states with the harshest sentences for first-degree murder, including the death penalty.

While rarely used, the death penalty is still an option in this state, particularly if a court decides the accused is guilty of murder with certain aggravating factors, such as the death of a police officer, multiple victims, the involvement of gang violence or the use of torture. More often, a conviction for first-degree murder may result in life without parole. As you can see, facing either possibility means you are literally in a fight for your life.

Proving the case

To convict you of first-degree murder, the prosecution must prove that you committed the crime, that you did so intentionally and that you planned the crime ahead of time. These are not always easy elements to demonstrate in court, and you will have the opportunity to defend yourself by presenting your own evidence and alibi.

Of course, a skilled and experienced attorney will want to examine the evidence against you and investigate whether police violated your rights at any time before, during or after your arrest. A court may exclude any evidence that investigators unlawfully obtain, and this may improve your chances of a more positive outcome. With so much on the line, you would be wise to obtain legal counsel before agreeing to answer questions from investigators.