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Home » Violent Crimes Lawyer » Murder Lawyer

California Murder Attorney – Penal Code 187 PC

How My Rights Law Can Help You With Your Murder Charge

The consequences of a murder conviction can follow you for the rest of your life. Even if you did not commit the crime, it could impair your ability to get work or rent an apartment in the future. Therefore, you should hire a violent crimes lawyer to represent you and protect your rights and interests. Call My Rights Law at (888) 702-8882 or reach out to us through our secure web form.

California divides homicide into two categories – murder and manslaughter. California law defines murder as an unlawful killing of a human being or fetus with intent and has three types – first-degree, second-degree, and capital murder. According to statista.com, in 2020, California will have the most murders of all states, with 2,203 murder victims.

Elements Of Murder Penal Code 187 PC

There are three elements that prosecutors must prove for a defendant to be convicted in California. The elements are as follows:

  1. The defendant caused the death of another person or a fetus,
  2. The defendant acted with malice aforethought, and
  3. The defendant killed without lawful excuse or justification.[1]

If the prosecutor cannot prove all of the above, you cannot be convicted of murder.

What Is Malice Aforethought?

According to California law, malice may be express or implied. Malice is express when there is deliberate intent to kill someone. However, malice is implied when no considerable provocation appears or when the circumstances attending the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart. Examples of implied are killings resulting from an intentional act, the act’s natural consequences are dangerous to human life, and the killer knew the danger to human life.

Different Categories Of Murder

There are many categories of murder, including:

  • First Degree Murder
  • Second Degree Murder
  • Capital Murder
  • Felony Murder
  • Attempted Murder

The punishment varies depending on the type of murder committed and can range from 10 years in prison to the death penalty.

First Degree Murder

Under California law, there are five roads to first-degree murder conviction –

  1. By using a destructive device or explosive, a weapon of mass destruction, ammunition to penetrate metal or armor or poison,
  2. By lying in wait,
  3. By inflicting torture,
  4. By a willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing,
  5. By directly killing someone while committing certain felonies.

A conviction of first-degree murder carries a sentence of 25 years to life in prison. Suppose the murder involved a hate crime under California law. In that case, the penalty will be life in prison without the possibility of parole. A hate crime is when the murder is based on the victim’s:

  • Race,
  • Religion,
  • Gender,
  • Disability,
  • Sexual Orientation, or
  • Nationality.

Second Degree Murder

Second-degree murder is also willful murder, but it is not deliberate like first-degree, and there is no premeditation element.[2] An example of second-degree murder is someone shooting a gun with the intent to scare but not kill anyone, and someone is killed. This is a catch-all degree and is anything that does not constitute first-degree murder.

Under California law, second-degree murder carries a penalty of 15 years to life in prison. However, there are a number of factors that may increase the sentence:

Aggravating Circumstances Sentence
The defendant served a prior murder sentence. Life in prison with no possibility of parole.
The defendant was shot from a vehicle, and the defendant intended to cause serious injury. 20 years in prison to life in prison.
The victim is a peace officer. 25 years in prison to life in prison.
The victim is a peace officer, and the defendant intended to:

· Kill the officer.

· Inflict great bodily injury on the officer.

· Kill using a deadly weapon or firearm.

Life in prison with no possibility of parole.

Capital Murder

Capital murder is the most serious crime in California and could result in the death penalty. Under California law, capital murder is murder with special circumstances, such as:

  • Killing someone for financial gain.
  • Killing a witness to prevent testimony.
  • Killing more than one person.
  • Killing for the benefit of a street gang.[3]

If capital murder is committed, the punishment is generally life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty. However, on March 12, 2019, Governor Newsome enacted a moratorium on executions, meaning while the death penalty is still legal in California, prosecutors no longer seek the death penalty. Therefore, if someone is killed under special circumstances, the defendant will receive life in prison without the possibility of parole, meaning they will never get out of prison.

Felony Murder Rule

In California, you can also be charged with first or second-degree murder under what is known as the felony murder rule.[4] The felony murder rule means that if someone is killed while a felony is being committed, regardless of who killed them and the defendant’s intent, the defendant may be convicted of first-degree murder. The felony murder rule applies only to the individual if they were the actual killer, aided or abetted, or were a significant participant in the underlying felony.

For example, if four people robbed a bank and everyone agreed that they would not carry loaded weapons, but one individual loaded their gun and shot and killed someone during the bank robbery. All four robbers could be convicted under the felony murder rule.

Thus, felony murder includes first degree murder or second degree murder. The punishments are the same as outlined above.

Attempted Murder

In California, attempted murder occurs when the defendant intends to kill the victim and takes steps toward killing the victim, but the victim does not die. Essentially, attempted murder is trying and failing to kill someone.

Intention To Kill

Surprisingly, the location of the injury may be essential to determine whether attempted murder has occurred because intent to injure is not enough to convict someone of attempted murder. For example, harm to the upper body generally indicates murderous intent because vital organs are in the upper body. On the other hand, injuries to the lower body like a leg shows the intent to injure and not necessarily the goal to kill because it is less likely someone will die from getting shot in the leg than they will in the chest.

Direct Step

A direct step essentially means that the murder would have occurred if an outside factor had not interfered. A direct step can be almost any violent act including, but not limited to:

  • Shooting at someone,
  • Paying someone to kill someone,
  • Stabbing someone in the upper body region.

A direct step is not buying the weapon or looking for an assassin online. You have to take a step more than planning to be convicted of attempted murder. For example, say that someone bought a gun with the intent to kill their boss. If they never do anything more, but their boss dies in a car accident, they cannot be convicted of attempted murder simply for purchasing the gun. However, suppose someone buys a gun, brings it to work, and shoots it in their boss’s direction. Imagine the boss survives because the shooter was a lousy shot or because a doctor intervened. The shooter can be charged and likely convicted of attempted murder.

California law also recognizes the kill zone theory under attempted murder.

What Is The Kill Zone Theory?

The Kill Zone Theory means that a defendant is liable for anyone they accidentally killed while attempting to kill someone else. Under this theory, the defendant does not need to know there is anyone else in the vicinity. Let’s return to the example of the employee shooting at their boss. Imagine that there is someone on the other side of the wall behind the boss. Imagine the employee shoots, misses the boss, and the bullet goes through the wall and kills someone. The shooter may be convicted of first or second-degree murder even though they did not intend to kill that specific person.

Defenses To Murder

There are some common defenses to murder that a defense attorney may employ during a case. Some of these defenses are easier to prove than others but include:

  • Self-defense or defense of others,
  • Accidental killing,
  • The insanity defense,
  • Mistaken identification.

Self Defense Or Defense Of Others

According to California law, an individual may kill in certain circumstances, such as self-defense or the defense of another person. For these defenses to apply, the defendant must reasonably believe that they or someone else was in imminent danger of being killed, suffering great bodily harm, or being raped or robbed.[5]

California also recognizes the imperfect self-defense doctrine. Even if the belief of imminent danger was unreasonable, their sentence might be less if the belief of imminent danger was honest. However, the charges will likely never be entirely dropped under the imperfect self-defense doctrine.

Accidental Killing

An accidental killing occurs when the defendant has no criminal intent, is not acting negligently, and is not engaged in unlawful activity.

Insanity Defense

Most people have heard of the insanity defense. However, it is only employed in approximately one percent of all cases in the United States, and in those one percent of cases, it is only successful twenty-five percent of the time.

In California, an individual can please “not guilty by reason of insanity.” To prove insanity, the defendant has the burden of proving they killed because:

  • They did not understand the nature of the act, or
  • They could not distinguish between right and wrong.

Imagine an individual hallucinated that a clown was chasing them and pushed that clown in front of a train. However, they pushed an individual. They killed someone. However, they did not understand the nature of their act. Thus, they lacked the intent element of malice aforethought.

Mistaken Identification

Mistaken identification is the number one cause of wrongful convictions. According to the Innocence Project, approximately 14,000 people are currently in prison because they were mistakenly identified as offenders. Mistaken identification does not always occur as a result of malice. Instead, it often happens because several factors detract from the eyewitness’s ability to identify the suspect correctly. These factors may include, but are not limited to:

  • Fixation on the weapon makes it more difficult to recognize or recall the suspect’s features.
  • The suspect is of a different race. Racial bias and generalizations may cause mistakes in identifying people.
  • Time passage may cause errors in identifying people. As time passes, it is more difficult to remember specific features. For example, if the defendant is a short bald white man with blonde hair and blue eyes, any similar-looking man will likely look like the suspect to the eyewitness after enough time passes.

Eyewitnesses are very persuasive to juries; therefore, hiring an attorney who knows how to deal with the mistaken identity defense is essential.

Related violent crime offense: Kidnapping

My Rights Law California Murder Lawyer

A California murder defense lawyer can help you understand the penalty for murder charges. The penalty for murder charges will differ based upon the degree. For that reason, it is important to hire a criminal defense law firm to formulate your best defense. Murder sentencing in a murder case is subject to “enhancements” which may increase or decrease the punishment. Murder with a deadly weapon, for instance, can increase the punishment while the age of the defendant (e.g., a teenager v. adult) may work in the defendant’s favor.

In general, first degree murder sentencing ranges from death to life imprisonment without parole, so if you are charged with this offense, you need the help of a skilled defense attorney.

Second degree murder entails up to life imprisonment with parole. The exact number of years will depend on the judge and any enhancements included, so it is essential to hire a Los Angeles murder attorney familiar with your rights and defenses.

It is certainly possible to get a murder charge reduced to a lesser offense through the help of a skilled murder defense lawyer. Among other things, they could prove that there was no intent to kill, or that you acted in self defense.

Hiring A California Criminal Defense Attorney

The consequences of murder are severe. If you have been wrongly accused of murder, it is essential that you hire an attorney who understands the legal system and how to protect your rights. My Rights Law is full of highly experienced criminal defense attorneys with a track record of success. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us at (888) 702-8882 or reach out through our secure form.

[1] CALCRIM 520
[2] See California Penal Code 189 PC.
[3] California Penal Code 190.2 PC.
[4] California Penal Code 189 PC.
[5] CALCRIM 505.

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