Homicide describes the unlawful killing of one person by another person, or situations in which a person dies as the result of another person’s actions. Under Penal Code 187 PC, California recognizes many different forms of homicide, which are classed as either murder or manslaughter.
Murder charges require proof of “malice aforethought”, which roughly refers to a state of mind in which the defendant intended to kill the other person.
First-Degree Murder and Capital Murder
In California, there are several sets of circumstances that classify a murder as a first-degree murder. This often applies if a murder:
- Was willful (i.e., the defendant intended to kill the other person, or had “malice”)
- Involved deliberation or deliberate planning; and,
- Was premeditated.
In addition, first-degree murder can be charged for any murder involving:
- Explosive devices
- Armor-piercing ammunition
- Firearms shot from a moving vehicle
- Weapons of mass destruction
- Lying in wait of the victim
California also has a “felony murder rule”, which means that a defendant can be charged with first-degree murder if they are involved in a felony or an attempted felony and someone is killed in the process—whether intentionally or unintentionally. First-degree murder can be charged if a defendant was participating in a felony or an attempted felony and:
- They killed someone
- They aided and abetted someone who killed someone
- They were a major participant in the felony, which displayed reckless indifference to someone else’s’ life
- An on-duty police or federal officer or an officer of the peace (i.e., a judge, firefighter, or prosecutor) was killed.
First-degree murders in California can result in a state prison term of 25 years to life.
They can also result in life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, as well as the death sentence (which is referred to as seeking capital murder charges). Executions are “suspended” in California, meaning that death sentences are not currently being carried out, but it is still possible to receive the sentence.
To seek either life without parole or the death sentence, the prosecution must show that the murder was either “especially heinous, cruel, or manifesting exceptional depravity”, or that it was committed under specific circumstances. There around 20 qualifying circumstances, which include but are not limited to murders committed:
- while engaging in a felony
- while avoiding lawful arrest
- using a bomb or explosive device
- for financial gain
- to prevent a witness from testifying
- to benefit a gang or gang activity
- as a hate crime (based on the victim’s religion, race, gender, disability, or sexual orientation).
Second-degree murder is considered less severe than first-degree murder, but is still very serious. It generally refers to any murder (i.e., willful murder) that was not necessarily deliberate or premeditated—i.e., that was not considered or planned ahead of time, or when the murder cannot be considered a first-degree murder or a manslaughter.
The penalties for second-degree murder in California can range from 15 years to life in prison. Sentencing can be increased if the defendant has a criminal record, if the murder was a “drive-by shooting”, or if the person killed was a police officer.
What should I do if I am being charged with murder in California?
Murder charges are incredibly serious, and it is absolutely essential to have the right attorney fighting on your behalf. If you or a loved one are facing murder charges in Tustin, California, Attorney Edward R. Flores is ready to help. Call today for a free consultation on your case.