California criminal law defines murder as the unlawful killing of someone else with a malice aforethought. If another person dies as a result of your actions, you will face murder charges. You can be convicted for this offense even when your actions were not intentional as long as you acted with extreme negligence and disregard for the victim’s life. A conviction for murder in California will attract severe legal penalties, including time in prison and hefty fines. Also, a murder criminal record can significantly affect your personal and professional time. If you or your loved one is facing murder charges, it is crucial to recieve legal guidance from The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm. We serve clients in Los Angeles, California, to ensure the best outcome in your case.

Overview of Murder Charges in California

Murder is the unlawful killing of another person with a malice aforethought. This offense is charged under California Penal Code 187, and a conviction will attract severe penalties. When charging you for murder, malice aforethought is considered as a deliberate intention or actions that disregard safety. Also, it should be clear that you acted knowing the danger you were posing to the life of the alleged victim.

There are several categories of murder charges you can face in California, including:

First Degree Murder

First-degree murder is charged under the following circumstances:

  • When you kill another person using a deadly weapon, explosive or inflicting torture on them
  • Killing an individual in a way that was intentional and deliberate
  • Murder committed in a criminal way

You would be charged with first-degree murder if you went to another person’s house intending to kill. Also, manipulating a person to take part in a particular activity with an intent to kill them is charged under first-degree murder.

Second Degree Murder

Second-degree murder charges are brought about by killing, which is willful but not conscious or deliberate. This may include shooting a firearm in a public place and causing death. An individual who has a history of DUI conviction can get charged with second-degree murder for drunk driving and causing an accident that kills a third party.

Capital Murder

Under California criminal law, capital murder is a form of first-degree murder which is charged under specific circumstances. This offense is punishable by either death penalty or life imprisonment. Some of the situations that may cause you to get accused of capital murder are:

  • Killing more than a single victim
  • Causing the death of someone else so you can acquire some financial benefit. This could occur where one kills another person to gain possession of their wealth.
  • The victim of the murder was a peace officer. For this offense, California criminal law considers police offices, elected officials, judges, and firefighters as peace officers.
  • Killing of a witness to prevent them from giving testimony in a court hearing
  • Murder resulting from hate crime. Hate crime could be a result of racial profiling, color, religion, or origin differences.
  • The drive-by shooting which occurs when you shoot a firearm from a car
  • Murder perpetuated for the benefit of a street gang 

California Felony Murder Rule

This rule applies to individuals who cause death while committing or attempting to commit a felony. Even when it is not clear that the victim would die, a death that results from criminal acts will be charged under California Penal Code 187. However, you will suffer felony murder liability if:

  • You were the actual perpetrator of the offense.
  • You aided, commanded, or assisted the actual murder in committing the felony.
  • You acted with indifference and disregard for human life and was a significant participant in the murder.

First-degree felony murder will apply to crimes such as robbery, arson, burglary kidnapping, carjacking, sex crimes, among others. You are likely to bear the liability of second-degree felony murder if you commit a felony, which is dangerous and not included in the first degree. This could be mostly a result of creating a substantial risk that poses a threat to life.

Before you get convicted for a murder charge in California, the prosecutor needs to prove the following elements of the crime:

  • You took part in an act which resulted in the death of another person or a fetus.
  • You committed the actions with malice aforethought. Malice aforethought is a willful and intentional reason to act in a particular way. Malice is implied if your actions were deliberate, and you fully understood the danger you were posing to the life of another party.
  • There was no lawful justification for your action.

If you are facing murder charges, it is crucial to have competent legal representation. Your attorney will help you find fault in the evidence brought against you. Also, you can try and make it difficult for the prosecutor to prove the elements of the crime.

Legal Penalties for Murder in California

Murder is a serious offense and is charged Under Penal Code 187 in California. A conviction for this offense attracts severe legal consequences. The severity of the penalties for this offense will depend on the kind of sentence you receive:

Penalties for First Degree Murder

If you are convicted for first-degree murder in California, you will face a twenty-five years prison sentence. However, if the killing was based on hate crime, you may face life imprisonment without the possibility of release on parole. A hate crime could be based on the following factors:

  • Religion - If you caused the death of another person due to indifference in faith, you could be charged with murder as a hate crime.
  • Race - Causing the death of a person since they are of a different race can attract hate crime murder charges.
  • Sexual orientation - Every individual has a right to choose their sexual orientation. When death results from sexual orientation-based arguments or fights, it will be charged as a hate crime.

Capital Murder

Capital murder charges apply to individuals who cause death for financial gain or killing more than one person. Also, murdering a witness to prevent them from testifying will be considered capital murder. A conviction for capital murder is often punishable by a death penalty or life imprisonment with no possibility of parole. Capital murder is a serious offense, and if you or your loved one is facing these charges, it would be wise to seek legal guidance.

Second Degree Murder

You are likely to face a fifteen years prison sentence if you get charged with second-degree murder in California. However, your penalties could be enhanced under the following circumstances:

  • If you have a previous conviction for murder, your punishment for a second-degree murder could be increased to life imprisonment.
  • The sentence for second-degree murder increases to twenty years if you committed the offense using a firearm or while driving a vehicle. In this case, it should be clear that you acted in an attempt to cause severe bodily injury to the alleged victim.
  • If you cause the death of a peace officer, you will be sentenced to twenty-five years in prison.
  • Your penalty for a second-degree murder conviction will be life imprisonment if the alleged victim was a police officer, and you specifically intended to harm them. Also, this sentence enhancement will apply if you used a deadly weapon to kill the officer.

Additional Penalties for Murder Charges in California

Besides the mandatory jail sentence for each category of murder, you may get subjected to the following:

  • A strike on your record under the Three Strikes Law of California
  • Enhanced sentence if there was the use of a firearm during the perpetration of the crime
  • Up to twenty-five years additional prison sentence depending on the circumstances of your case and your criminal history
  • Victim restitution where you have to pay the relatives of the deceased for the wrongful death of their loved one
  • Up to $10,000 in fines
  • You are likely to lose your rights to own or use a firearm if you get convicted for murder in California

Legal Defense Against California Penal Code 187

Getting arrested and charged with murder can be devastating. This is because of the severe legal consequences that accompany a conviction for this offense. Also, having a murder conviction in your criminal record has a social stigma, which is likely to affect your relationship with others. If you are charged with murder in California, your attorney can help you present the following legal defenses to your case.

Self Defense and Defense of Others

When a person poses a threat to your life, you can cause their death in an attempt to protect yourself. You could use this defense if your actions were reasonable under certain circumstances. There are here main elements that you need to show when claiming self-defense in a murder case:

  • You had a valid reason to believe that you or another individual was in danger of suffering severe injury or death.
  • You believed that force was required to protect you or the other person from the oncoming danger.
  • You use the necessary force to defend yourself or someone else against the danger posed by the alleged victim.

The judge will consider the circumstances under which the offense took place to determine whether your speculations were reasonable. When it is clear that your thoughts were sensible, the presence of an actual threat to your life will not be considered in this case. If you want to claim self-defense or defense of other people in an attempt to fight murder charges, it is crucial to have legal guidance.

Mistaken Identity

In California, numerous individuals are serving prison sentences for crimes they did not commit. When a murder occurs amid a large group of people or dark areas, it is easy for someone to identify you as the perpetrator mistakenly. Also, you may sometimes resemble a person who was present when the crime occurred, or a witness identifies you wrongly. If you can prove that you were somewhere when the alleged offense occurred, you could be freed of these charges. However, strong evidence or witnesses will be required to verify your claims of being in another location other than the crime scene.

Claiming Insanity

Individuals who are not in the right state of mind at the time of committing an offense cannot be deemed guilty for having a malice aforethought. If you have mental problems, you will have a valid defense to your murder charges. There are two elements which are considered by the court when examining for insanity:

  • Your ability to understand the nature and quality of the act you committed
  • Whether or not you can tell the difference between right and wrong

Before using insanity as a defense to murder charges, it is crucial to consult with your attorney. Also, it would be wise to ensure that you have a diagnosis when deciding to present this defense.

Accident Defense

Malice aforethought is an essential element that a prosecutor needs to prove before you get convicted for murder in California. Also, it should be clear that you committed an unlawful act without using ordinary caution. If you did not possess a malicious intent when committing the action, you could not be held guilty for murder. 

If your attorney can successfully show that killing was unintentional, your murder charges might be reduced to manslaughter, which is a lesser offense. However, it is crucial to understand that if you acted in disregard for human life, you could still get charged with murder without a malicious intention.

Death Occurred Under the Heat of Passion

The death that occurs while acting under the heat of passion is not considered murder in California. If you were provoked to a fight that led to death, you have a chance to fight the murder charges. However, you can only use this defense if the following is true:

  • The killing occurred without the use of a deadly weapon.
  • The method of execution was not in any way, brutal or unusual.
  • You did not act with malicious intent or disregard for human life.

With the help of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney, you can use this defense to get your charges reduced to manslaughter. If you are convicted of manslaughter instead of murder in California, you will face lesser penalties.

Claim That The Evidence Against You Was Wrongfully Obtained

California seizure and search laws specify the limit to which authorities can go to obtain evidence. If the police do not follow the right procedures to receive confirmation of murder, you can use this as a defense to your case. In this case, you can petition the court to get rid of the evidence which got obtained unlawfully.

Forced or Coerced Confessions

When taking testimonies from you other witnesses of your criminal murder case, the police should follow the laid down procedures and the rights as rpovided for in the Miranda rights. The law forbids any tactics that force witnesses to make wrong confessions. This includes threatening to harm the witness or their family or threatening the suspect with death. 

Also, offering any gifts in exchange for wrong confessions could be considered a form of coercion. If the authorities use coercive methods to make you confess for a crime you did not commit, you can use this as a defense to your criminal case.

California Penal Code 187 Related Offenses

Some offenses are closely related to murder in California since they trigger a conviction for this offense. Others involve unlawful killing. The following are offenses which could be charged alongside or instead of murder:

  1. Attempted Murder

Attempting to kill someone by making an attempt on their life will attract charges for attempted murder. Before you are convicted for this offense, the prosecutor must prove these elements of the crime:

  • You took a step against the life of another person or a fetus.
  • You did so intending to kill the alleged victim.

A conviction for attempted murder in California attracts possible life imprisonment without parole. Also, you may be required to make victim restitution and pay hefty fines. Attempted murder charges could be complicated since there is no specific intent that is necessary to prove the offense. Therefore, it is crucial to seek legal representation if you are facing these charges. When you are facing murder charges, but the victim did not die, you can face attempted murder charges instead of actual murder.

  1. Vehicular Manslaughter

Under California Vehicle Code 192 (1), vehicular manslaughter occurs when you cause the death of another person while operating a vehicle. However, before you get convicted, the following elements should be clear:

  • You drove a motor vehicle, and while doing so, you committed an infraction or a misdemeanor offense.
  • Your actions posed a danger to human life.
  • You acted with gross or ordinary negligence. You acted in gross negligence by being ordinarily careless in a way that a reasonable person wouldn’t have.
  • Your actions caused the death of another person. The victim must die for you to get charged with vehicular manslaughter. Also, death should be a direct result of your actions while driving.

The penalties that accompany a conviction for vehicular manslaughter will vary depending on the category of charges you are facing. Also, the circumstances surround the offense and your criminal history will be a determinant during conviction. A conviction for gross vehicular manslaughter attracts a one-year jail sentence and $1,000 in fines when charged as a misdemeanor. 

When charged as a felony, you are likely to face up to six years imprisonment, fines as well as formal probation. If you caused the death of another person using a motor vehicle, your murder charges could be reduced to vehicular manslaughter, which is a lesser offense.

  1. Watson Murder

California DUI murder occurs when you cause an accident while you are intoxicated and, as a result, kill another person in egregious circumstances. Watson Murder is considered a second-degree, assuming that you intentionally drove under the influence of alcohol, putting the life of another person in danger. The sentencing for Watson Murder significantly relies on the level of your intoxication and DUI criminal history.

You will face the following penalties if you are convicted for DUI murder in California:

  • A maximum of fifteen years in state prison
  • Fines not exceeding $10,000
  • A strike in your criminal record under the Three Strikes Law of California

If there are victims who survived the accident with severe bodily injuries, your sentence could be enhanced. California law is stringent on drivers who operate while under the influence of alcohol and causing death while doing so increases your penalties.

  1. Gang Enhanced Murder

If you cause the death of another individual with the help of a gang, you will be charged with both penal code 187 and California Street gang enhancement. However, this will apply if you murdered someone in the direction of another person or with a street gang. Being a member of a street gang is charged as an offense on its own.

If the street enhancement is successfully proven, you will face an addition of fifteen years in prison to your murder conviction penalties. Even when there is no sufficient evidence of murder, you may still get convicted for being a member of a gang. Getting charged with both murder and gang enhancement can be devastating. Therefore it is crucial to enlist the help of a competent criminal defense attorney. 

Fight Murder Charges with the Help of a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Murder charges can get complicated, and a conviction for this offense will result in severe legal and personal consequences. Fortunately, getting arrested for this grave offense does not always end in a conviction. There are defenses you can present in an attempt to evade the severe consequences or get your charges reduced to a lesser offense like manslaughter. If you are arrested and charged with murder, it would be wise to enlist the help of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. At The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, we will help you present a relevant defense and guide you through the case. If you are in Los Angeles, CA, call us today at 310-935-1675.