Double murder is the killing of two people, especially if it is planned or deliberate. In most countries, the law considers the intentional killing of a person the most serious form of murder and deserving of the harshest penalties for the crime. In many countries, the murder of two people carries the possibility of successive life sentences or the death penalty.
Most countries, including the US and its various jurisdictions, recognize different degrees of murder. The degrees correspond to the mental state of the person committing the offense. Intentional murder is the most serious form of homicide because it involves some amount of deliberation and a conscious decision to inflict death.
Many common law countries and jurisdictions in the US punish murder more severely based on “aggravating factors.” These usually involve the status of the victim or the manner in which the offense was carried out. Aggravating factors, sometimes referred to as “special circumstances,” include when the victim is a child or disabled, or when the murder was committed in a manner “indicative of wanton cruelty” or involved torture. With rare exceptions, the fact that more than one victim was killed is considered an aggravating factor or special circumstance when imposing sentences for a double murder, even if the murders are tried separately.
In the US, a double murder is punishable by successive terms of imprisonment, including life imprisonment, one term for each victim. In jurisdictions where a life sentence can be paroled, both life sentences have to be served before parole. Some US jurisdictions have a term of “natural life” imprisonment. The sentence ends upon the prisoner’s death unless commuted to a term of years by the governor of the state. A term of natural life is sometimes imposed by a court as an alternative to the death penalty, or is agreed to by a defendant in exchange for the death penalty not being sought by prosecutors.
In most US jurisdictions that have capitol punishment, a double murder conviction will qualify for the death penalty because of the aggravating factor that more than one person was killed. States all have their own statutory aggravating factors, and the decision as to whether to seek the death penalty rests with prosecutors. All but two countries in Europe have abolished capital punishment, Belarus and Latvia being the only remaining countries with death penalty laws. Many countries, such as China and Cuba, can use capitol punishment in special circumstances like the intentional killing of two people.
Double murder should be distinguished from murder-suicide. Although two killings are involved, there is criminal intent only as to the murder victim, and the suicide is beyond the reach of punishment. The term refers only to the murder of two people and has no application to cases involving more than two victims.