Under California’s Penal Code section 187, it is illegal to end another person’s life or kill a fetus with malice afterthought. The law defines “malice” as the intent to cause injury, pain, or distress with disregard for human life or safety. There are two types of homicide, which include murder and manslaughter. Generally, murder is the greater crime because it involves premeditation. Even though manslaughter is also a grave crime, the law describes the offense as the act of killing another human or fetus but without malice afterthought. If you face murder charges, we encourage you to contact California Criminal Lawyer Group. Irrespective of how bad your situation seems, you don’t need to fight your charges alone.
If convicted of first-degree murder, you risk serving a sentence of 25 years to life in state prison. Because murder charges can put your freedom, rights, and future in jeopardy, it is best to seek legal counsel sooner than later.
The Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter
California’s homicide laws make it illegal to end another person’s life. As we mentioned earlier, homicide is classified into two—murder and manslaughter. The charges you will face will highly depend on the details of your case.
Murder convictions are often heavily penalized. This is because the perpetrators of a crime end another person’s life with malicious intent. They premeditate on their actions or plan to kill.
One of the key terms used to describe murder is “malice afterthought.” The prosecution can prove malice afterthought by demonstrating that the following is true:
- You acted intentionally and willfully
- Your actions endangered the life of your victim
- You know or should have known about the danger posed by your actions
- You acted in conscious disregard for human life
The main similarity between murder and manslaughter is that in both cases, the victim ends up dead. However, manslaughter is when a defendant kills another person without the intent to do so. For instance, you could face manslaughter charges if you hit someone on the head with the intent to hurt them but end up causing their death. On the other hand, if you end another person’s life when drunk driving, you could face charges for vehicular manslaughter.
The penalty is high whether the prosecution charges you with murder or manslaughter. In both cases, you are likely to serve time and pay hefty fines. Moreover, the dependents of the victim may seek restitution for the wrongful death of their loved one. Your best chance of enjoying a favorable outcome is to work with a skilled criminal defense attorney.
Types of Murder
There are 5 main types of murder. The unique circumstances of your case will help the prosecution decide the charges that best suit your offense. Note that each type of murder may attract a slightly different penalty.
The 5 forms of murder include:
Premeditated murder falls under the first-degree murder classification. This is when a perpetrator kills another person with malice afterthought. The prosecution can prove that you committed first-degree murder if you:
- Poisoned the victim, used a lethal weapon or an explosive
- Tortured your victim in violation of California’s Penal Code 206 PC
- Planned the murder and acted willfully and deliberately
- Laid in waiting for your victim
- Committed felony murder
If convicted of first-degree murder, the punishment is as follows:
- A life sentence without parole, or
- Incarceration for 25 years to life
If you kill someone when committing a dangerous felony, the prosecution is likely to slap you with felony murder charges. Generally, the felony murder rule expands the definition of murder and applies to wrongdoers who commit a felony and, in the course of it, cause the death of another person.
Note that you could face charges irrespective of whether you were the actual killer or just the offender’s co-conspirator or accomplice. Furthermore, the prosecution can find you guilty regardless of whether the killing was accidental or intentional. Note that the outcomes of “dangerous felonies” such as rape, burglary, or arson pose inherent or foreseeable dangers to human life.
The prosecution only needs to prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You killed the victim
- You had the intent to kill or played a role in the killing of the victim
- You took part in the commission of a dangerous felony and acted with disregard for human life
- The victim(s) died because of the felony
- A bystander or police officer caused the death
- The victim died as you escaped or attempted to do so
- The victim was your accomplice
The punishment for first-degree murder and felony murder are the same. If convicted, the sentence may include
- A life sentence without parole, or
- Incarceration for 25 years to life
Capital murder is first-degree murder but with aggravating factors. These factors attract sentence enhancement, including the death penalty (capital punishment) depending on the circumstances of a case. Some of the aggravating factors that may lead to capital murder charges include:
- Killing for undeserved financial fain
- The murder of two or more victims
- Killing a law enforcement officer, firefighter, elected official, public servant, juror, judge, etc
- Killing a witness to ensure they don’t give their testimony in court
- Hate murder, grounded on the nationality, race, color, sexual orientation, gender, religion, or disability of the victim
If charged and convicted of capital murder, the punishment may include:
- The death penalty
- Life imprisonment without the possibility of parole
Drive-By Shooting— Penal Code 26100 PC
Under Penal Code 26100 PC, it is illegal to willfully and maliciously discharge a firearm from a motor vehicle. You could face charges for shooting and injuring or killing another person. Furthermore, you would still have a case to answer if you:
- Willfully allowed another person to carry a gun into your car
- Willfully allowed another person to fire a gun from your car
- Discharged your firearm from your car
- Shot a person outside your vehicle even if your intent was not to harm them
When you commit a drive-by shooting murder allied with a criminal street gang, a conviction is subject to a 15-year sentence enhancement. This means that you will serve a sentence for murder plus an additional 15 years.
A drive-by shooting that results in the shooting of another person is automatically charged as a felony. Under Proposition 196, drive-by shooting murder involves a cold-blooded killing under special circumstances, making a defendant subject to the harshest penalty.
If convicted of drive-by-shooting murder, the punishment may include:
- The death penalty, or
- Life imprisonment without the possibility of parole
First-degree and second-degree murder are alike in that both crimes involve the willful killing of another person with malice afterthought. The only difference is that second-degree murder doesn’t involve premeditation or deliberation.
Like drive-by shooting murder, second-degree murder can involve aggravating circumstances that enhance the punishment during a conviction. Some of these aggravating factors include:
- A prior murder sentence
- Discharging a weapon from a moving vehicle with the intent to cause grave bodily harm
- The victim was a law enforcement or peace officer.
Depending on the facts of a case, a conviction for second-degree murder may be as follows:
- Imprisonment for 15 years to life, or
- Incarceration for 20 years to life, or
- Life imprisonment with no possibility of parole
DUI Murder—Penal Code 191.5(a)
DUI murder is a type of second-degree murder where a defendant ends another person’s life while drunk driving. The charges escalate from vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated into DUI murder under the following circumstances:
- A defendant has a prior DUI conviction
- A defendant operated a vehicle with a BAC of 0.24% or higher
- The drunk defendant was over-speeding, driving a vehicle with mechanical issues, or racing with other drivers
Under the above circumstances, the prosecution perceives that the defendant acted in disregard for human life. The accused understood the risks of their actions but opted to ignore the dangers and drive dangerously. Their actions imply malice, creating grounds for harsher penalties.
If found guilty of DUI murder, the penalty may include:
- Incarceration for 15 years to life
Types of Manslaughter
Murder and manslaughter are the two main types of homicide. As such, there is a thin line between these crimes. Often, the prosecution can escalate a manslaughter charge into murder. However, a skilled lawyer can have murder charges reduced to manslaughter.
Let’s have a look at the different types of manslaughter:
Voluntary Manslaughter— Penal Code 192a
The prosecution will charge you with voluntary manslaughter if you end another person’s life willfully and deliberately but without premeditation. Often, this is when a killing happens spontaneously and in the spur of the moment.
The crime of voluntary manslaughter is punishable by:
- Jail time in state prison for 3, 6, or 11 years
Involuntary Manslaughter— Penal Code 192(b)
When a killing happens without premeditation, intent, or malice afterthought but with disregard for human life, the prosecution is likely to impose involuntary manslaughter charges. In this case, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your actions caused the victim’s probable, natural or direct death.
Depending on the unique facts of a case, the penalty for involuntary manslaughter may involve:
- Felony Probation, or
- 2, 3, or 4-year jail sentence
- A fine not exceeding $10,000
Vehicular Manslaughter—Penal Code 192c
The laws describe vehicular manslaughter as the offense of killing another person when operating an automobile. This is a wobbler crime often charged as a misdemeanor but could attract felony charges if aggravating circumstances exist.
For instance, the prosecution can escalate the charge into gross vehicular manslaughter and charge you under Penal Code 191.5. Typically, this happens when a killing occurs because of unusual levels of negligence, such as vehicular manslaughter during the commission of an unlawful act.
Based on the facts of a case, the punishment for vehicular manslaughter is as follows:
- Jail time in county prison for up to 12 months, or
- Incarceration for 2—10 years in state prison
California’s legal justice system tends to become even murkier when battling murder or manslaughter charges. If the prosecution has charged you for committing these offenses or you get wind that you are under investigation, turn to a skilled criminal law attorney immediately. At the California Criminal Lawyer Group, we have decades of combined experience and can provide invaluable assistance, irrespective of how bad your situation seems.
Offenses Related To Murder
Apart from the different types of murder and manslaughter, a few other crimes are closely related to violating Penal Code Section 187. They include:
Attempted Murder—Penal Code Section 664/187
Attempted murder is the crime of taking steps towards killing another person or fetus. In this case, the accused intended to kill and even tried to commit murder but was unsuccessful.
Attempted murder is a “strikable” offense under California’s Three Strikes Law, and its punishment is as follows:
- Incarceration for life with the possibility of parole
Aiding a Suicide— Penal Code Section 401
Under Penal Code section 401, it is illegal to help someone end their life. You can be found guilty of aiding a suicide by encouraging the victim, advising them, or giving them the means to commit suicide.
Violating Penal Code 401 is a felony punishable by:
- 16 months—3 years imprisonment
Elements of Murder —Violating Penal Code Section 187
Numerous crimes fall under homicide. However, murder is seen as the gravest offense because it involves cold-blooded killing with malice afterthought.
Before the prosecution can convict you of murder, they must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The defendant’s actions resulted in the death of another individual or fetus
- The activities of the accused demonstrate or imply malice afterthought
- There is no lawful justification or excuse for the killing
Additional Penalties for Violating Penal Code Section 187
The specific facts of a case play a fundamental role in dictating the punishment befitting a crime. For instance, a gang-related murder or one executed using a firearm is subject to sentence enhancement. This can add an extra 15 years to your murder sentence.
Moreover, murder is a felony, and a conviction automatically strips you of the right to own, possess or purchase a firearm. You must also note that this is a “Strikable” offense under California’s Three Strikes Law. If you are convicted, you will have one strike on your criminal record that could affect sentencing during any future convictions.
If convicted for murder while committing a sex crime or attempting to commit such an offense, you must register for life as a California tier three sex offender.
Apart from the criminal repercussions of an offense, the family of the murdered victim may also slap you with a civil lawsuit. The wrongful death suit helps to compensate the dependents of the victim for damages suffered.
Some of the damages families by recover by filing a wrongful death civil lawsuit include:
- Medical expenses
- Funeral costs
- Loss of consortium
- Punitive damages
Best Defenses for Fighting Murder Charges
Did you know that a murder charge dismissal or an acquittal is possible with the proper defenses? With a competent criminal defense attorney on your corner, you have good reason to hope for a favorable outcome.
Apart from negotiating for a favorable plea deal, your lawyer could use the following defenses:
A sure way to get off the loop is to argue that the killing was justifiable. One way to do so is to inform the court that you acted to defend yourself or someone else from impending danger of great bodily harm or even death. For instance, it could be that you hit the alleged victim on the head to prevent them from committing an atrocious crime such as maiming or rape.
Note that your attorney must demonstrate why you had reason to believe that you or someone else was in the face of danger. Moreover, this defense works best when a defendant only used enough force to protect themselves. Note that an “imperfect self-defense” may not do much to dismiss a murder charge. However, it could have your charges reduced from murder to voluntary manslaughter.
Sometimes, bad things happen to good people. It could be that you ended up killing the victim, but you had no intent to do them harm, and your actions are a far cry from negligent. If the facts of a case don’t amount to criminal negligence, disregard for human life, or failure to carry out your legal duty to the victim, a skilled attorney can argue that the killing was accidental.
Mental health is a significant issue across the world. It is not foreign for defendants to find themselves next to a dead body, yet they do not understand what happened. Using the M’Naughten test, your attorney can help prove the following is true:
- You didn’t understand the nature of your actions
- You didn’t have the mental capacity to differentiate right from wrong
Note that the court is obligated to protect the public from possible dangers. This means that pleading insane may have your charges dismissed, although this doesn’t necessarily mean you will be free to go home. Instead of sentencing you to prison, the court is likely to send you into an asylum for mental treatment.
Sometimes, a case is hinged on the world of an eyewitness who claims they saw you murder the victim. Unfortunately, it is not foreign for a witness to have a twisted version of what happened. Even when they don’t intend to lie, they could pin the blame on someone else because of factors such as:
- Trauma allied with witnessing a killing
- Fixation on the murder weapon
- Memory lapses
According to scientific research, people from one race find it challenging to distinguish between people of other races. This is pinned on neurophysiological brain mechanisms that make people of a different race look somewhat alike. A witness may claim that they saw the defendant, although they saw an entirely different person. It is also common for mix-ups to happen because of improper suggestions by the police.
If your charges are based on mistaken identity, your defense team can prove this much is true using several means. First, they could do a live lineup to determine whether the witness can identify you without a problem. Second, they could investigate police procedures during previous lineups to determine whether the witness received improper suggestions. An eyewitness identification expert may also help explain to the jury why doubt about the account of an eyewitness exists.
Coercion from the police during interrogations is a real problem. It could be that you confessed to a crime and signed a statement because:
- The police threatened you or your family
- The authorities threatened you with the death penalty if you failed to “say the truth.”
- The police promised better treatment if you just “said the truth.”
Involuntary confessions cannot be used as evidence in court. Most people, especially those who have not been in legal trouble before, find interrogations quite overwhelming. With just enough pressure, such people can do anything to make the interrogations stop— including telling the police what they want to hear. Fortunately, police coercion is illegal, and coerced confessions cannot be used in court.
Illegal Search and Seizure
The fourth amendment protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures. The police must toe the line and use proper channels to receive court-issued search warranties when necessary. Like coerced confessions, evidence gathered during an illegal search and seizure is inadmissible in court.
Find an Anaheim Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Arguably, the stakes cannot be any higher until you face murder charges. On the bright side, your fate is not sealed until you are found guilty during the trial. Between an arrest and your trial date, you have time to build a strong defense and hopefully save your freedom, future, reputation, and livelihood. The best decision you can make is to reach out to California Criminal Lawyer Group. We have sufficient resources to carry out thorough independent investigations to give your case a winning chance. We are ready to fight for your best interests, from filling to suppress illegal evidence to filling dismissal motions. Call us today at 714-766-0965 for a 100% free and confidential initial consultation.