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It is a federal crime to hire, i.e., pay or promise to pay something of pecuniary value, a person to murder someone, when doing so affects interstate or foreign commerce.  See 18 U.S.C. § 1958.  Traveling interstate, using a telephone, or using the internet are common means of affecting interstate or foreign commerce.

The penalties for murder for hire vary greatly–from being eligible for the death penalty if a death actually occurs to as little as no incarceration to 10 years if no injury or death occurs–depending on the facts of the case.  For more information see the Penalties section below.

Elements of the Crime 

In order to prove a murder for hire case, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, the prosecutor must prove each the following elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. That the defendant at or about the time charged in the indictment travelled or caused another to travel in interstate commerce or used or caused another to use the mail or any facility in interstate or foreign commerce;
  2. That the travel or use of the mail or interstate facility was done with the intent that a murder be committed in violation of the laws of any State or of the United States; and
  3. That anything of pecuniary value was received or promised or agreed to be paid as consideration for the murder.


Penalties for Federal Murder for Hire Charges

The murder for hire statute provides three different penalties depending on the facts of the case:

  • If a person is actually killed, the penalty is life in prison or the death penalty and up to a $250,000 fine;
  • If a person suffers personal injury, the penalty ranges from zero to 20 years in prison and/or a fine;
  • If there is no death or serious injury, the penalty ranges from zero to 10 years in prison and/or a fine.

18 U.S.C. § 1958(a).

Common Examples of Murder-for-Hire Cases:

Example A – A “traditional” murder for hire case involving an informant or undercover agent

In a typical murder-for-hire case, law enforcement is notified that a person (the accused) wants to kill another person (known as the “target”) and is looking for another person (known as the “hitman”) to murder the target in exchange for payment.  How the investigation of this threat is handled from depends heavily on the facts of the case.  It is, however, standard procedure in for law enforcement to try and introduce an informant or undercover agent or officer, to the accused, so the informant or undercover can try and control the plot, while secretly recording via audio or video, the accused plotting to murder somebody in exchange for payment.  The takedown or arrest usually occurs once the government is confident that all of the elements of the crime have been established and, ideally, at least for the government, recorded.  Federal prosecutors love to have video evidence of the accused meeting with the hitman, telling the hitman expressly that he or she wants the target dead, and then handing the payment to the hitman.  This is very compelling evidence and usually leads to the arrest of and charges being filed against the accused.

Example B – A dark web murder for hire case or solicitation of murder on the internet:

Not all murder for hire cases are so neat as the example above or easily proven.  Given how popular the internet has become, not surprisingly, it is increasingly common for people to try and use the anonymity of the internet, particularly the dark web, to protect themselves from getting ensnared in an undercover operation like the one above.

A quick search of Google reveals publicly available websites that advertise hitman services.  Usually, these websites contain a link or links to the dark web and instructions on how to reach these “dark web hitman” websites.  These dark web hitman websites take on a variety of appearances.  For instance, they may claim to employ former military hitmen, gang members, foreign mobsters or tough guys.  These websites offer an ala carte menu of services ranging from murder-to “roughing” somebody up-to maiming them-to making their death appear to be an accident.  Prices vary accordingly, and payment is made through bitcoin.

However, you should be aware that many, if not all, of these type of sites are scams or not what they appear to be.  Some simply take your money and dare you to report them to law enforcement.  So, if they are not “real” hitman sites, can you still get in trouble for plotting to murder somebody on these types of sites?  Absolutely.

How?  Any number of ways:

  • The website may be operated by a government (U.S. or foreign) as part of an undercover operation or sting, so, in effect, whoever uses the site is communicating directly with the government or law enforcement;
  • The government may have infiltrated the site, possibly by gaining the cooperation of the person(s) operating the scam, by conducting an undercover operation against the site itself, or by searches and seizures of site, i.e., search warrants, or by intercepting communications between the site and the accused, perhaps by getting court authorized authority for a wiretaps or through other means.
  • The contents of the website may have been hacked or the communications intercepted by a hacker, who, in turn, provides this information to the government or law enforcement.

Common Defenses to Murder for Hire Charges

  • Withdrawal
  • Entrapment
  • Legal or factual impossibility
  • Lack of intent
  • No federal nexus

If you or someone you know has been accused of murder-for-hire, contact the award-winning attorneys at SBBL for a free case evalution.

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