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Idaho Criminal Law: An Overview

If you're a first-time offender in Idaho charged with a criminal offense, it's easy to become unsettled when worrying about what the future has in store for you. However, if you arm yourself with knowledge about Idaho's criminal laws, you can face your trial and any penalties with more confidence in the possible outcomes.

Use LawInfo's criminal law articles to help educate yourself about Idaho's laws and how they affect your case. You can learn about the difference between misdemeanors and felonies, intoxicated driving charges and many other state-specific criminal law topics. You can also use LawInfo to connect with an Idaho criminal law attorney in Boise, Nampa, Meridian or elsewhere in the state.

Murder vs. Manslaughter in Idaho

When one person kills another in Idaho, it's called a homicide. However, not all homicides are classified or penalized similarly. The killer's intentions (or lack thereof) at the time of the homicide divide the criminal act into two classifications: murder and manslaughter.

Murder is more serious than a manslaughter offense and therefore carries harsher penalties. Homicide by murder is committed either with “malice aforethought”—which means that the killer purposefully intended for the victim to die—or through torture with the intention of causing pain unto death.

Manslaughter is an accidental killing in which the killer didn't intend for the victim to die. There are three types of manslaughter offenses:

  • Vehicular manslaughter—The killer was operating a vehicle when, by an accident or gross negligence, they killed the victim. Oftentimes if a drunk driver kills someone, it's ruled as vehicular manslaughter.
  • Involuntary manslaughter—The killer kills the victim by other accidental means due to either negligence or an unlawful act. This includes the reckless and negligent use of a deadly weapon, such as an accidental discharge of a firearm that kills someone.
  • Voluntary manslaughter—Often called a “heat of passion” killing, this is when a quarrel between two lovers or a lover and the person with whom a partner is cheating becomes violent and one or more parties are killed due to high emotions clouding the killer's better judgment.

Crime Classifications in Idaho

Every state has its own system of classifying crimes which also identifies the statutory punishments for each classification. Idaho has two main classifications of criminal offenses: felonies and misdemeanors. Non-criminal offenses are called infractions, which only carry a fine of up to $300.

Felonies are the most serious criminal offenses and infractions are the least serious offenses. Any offenses that aren't defined as felonies or infractions are classified as misdemeanors. Unlike many states, Idaho doesn't subdivide felonies and misdemeanors into classes or degrees with penalties prescribed per class/degree. Instead, Idaho prescribes penalties per the individual offenses.

Misdemeanors are punishable by up to one year of imprisonment and felonies carry more than one year of imprisonment. The most serious felony offense, first-degree murder, is penalized by either life imprisonment or the death penalty.

Idaho Capital Punishment

The most severe penalty a criminal can receive in Idaho is capital punishment—or death by lethal injection or firing squad. Capital punishment is reserved for the most serious felony, first-degree murder, which is:

  • When you murder any officer of the peace or the court, including police officers, judges, prosecuting attorneys and firefighters.
  • When you murder a minor under 12 years of age.
  • When you are a prisoner and you murder a guard, another prisoner or a visitor.
  • When you premeditate the murder, including the use of poison or torture.
  • When you've been sentenced for first or second-degree murder and you commit another murder, even if you're on probation or parole.
  • When you are a prisoner and you murder someone while escaping or attempting to escape prison.

Capital punishment is not a guaranteed sentence for first-degree murder charges. First, the prosecution must file a notice of intent to seek the death penalty. After that, the court must find if the case contains any statutory aggravating circumstances that warrant the death penalty. The killer's mental capacity must also be evaluated.

Offenders are more likely to receive life imprisonment than capital punishment in Idaho. There have been only three executions in the state since the death penalty statute was revised in 1977.