First-degree murder is the highest possible murder conviction with the harshest penalties possible. As such, it has strict guidelines that the prosecution must follow before making this charge.
The New York State Senate explains that to face a charge of murder in the first degree, you must be at least 18 years old and commit the act with the intent to kill. Your victim does not have to be the person you intended to kill but does have to be a victim of the crim in which you were attempting to kill a chosen victim.
First-degree murder is an option in specific cases with certain victims and situations. If the victim is someone working on duty as a first responder and is a nurse, doctor, paramedic, emergency medical technician, ambulance driver or firefighter, then they are qualifying victims for this charge. In addition, killing an officer of the law who is on duty at the time is also a qualifying situation.
Other victims that qualify for this charge are correctional facility employees who are on duty, a judge or any person who would act as a witness in a criminal case against you.
Certain situations may also lead to a first-degree murder charge regardless of the victim. If someone hired you to kill another person, this is murder in the first degree. If you committed the act after an escape from custody for a crime with a life sentence, then this is a qualifying situation. Torturing your victim, killing someone while committing certain first and second-degree felonies and killing someone during the commission of an act of terrorism are all also qualifying situations.