Chalk outline of murder victim next to evidence in the street

Capital Murder vs. First-Degree Murder

McCready Law Group Aug. 7, 2023

According to the California Department of Justice (DOJ), in 2022, the violent crime rate statewide rose 6.1 percent and property crime 6.2 percent from the year before. The rates are based on how many persons were victimized for every 100,000 residents. For violent crime, the rate went from 466.2 per 100,000 in 2021 to 494.6 in 2022; for property crime, the respective rates are 2,178.4 in 2021 and 2,313.6 in 2022. 

While violent crime overall was rising, the DOJ found that the murder rate actually fell 5.0 percent in 2022 from the year before, from 6.0 per 100,000 to 5.7 per 100,000. The arrest rate for homicide also decreased 5.9 percent from 5.1 per 100,000 to 4.8 in 2022. Considering the Golden State has a population of nearly 39 million, and you divide that by 100,000, that means that almost 2,000 people were murdered in 2022. 

Statistics aside, murder is a serious charge in California. The Penal Code establishes two types of murder charges—First Degree and Second Degree. Capital murder, which can lead to life in prison or even to the death penalty, is defined as “first-degree murder with special circumstances.” 

If you or a loved one is under investigation for murder, or have been charged already, you need to seek out an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. Even conviction on a second-degree charge can land you behind bars for 15 years to life. 

In Long Beach, Cypress Hill, Lakewood, or the surrounding communities in California, reach out to me at McCready Law Group.  

As a former officer with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), I have extensive experience on both sides of the aisle when it comes to the justice system. Since 2007, I have been devoting my law practice to the criminal defense of those facing charges. I will protect your rights and develop a defense strategy aimed at the best possible outcome. 

Murder Charges in California

The California Penal Code defines murder as “the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought." It carves out exceptions under certain circumstances for abortion. It divides murder into first-degree and second-degree, but both are considered felonies. 

First- and Second-Degree Murder

First-degree murder may be charged under any of the following circumstances: 

  • Any premeditated act resulting in someone’s death.

  • The commission of a serious crime, such as robbery, rape, or carjacking that results in someone’s death 

  • Using an explosive device, armor-piercing ammunition, poison, or weapon of mass destruction in the killing. 

  • Torture was involved in the murder.

A first-degree murder charge can result in up to 25 years in prison. The sentence can be raised to life in prison if the act is judged to be a hate crime—that is, it is based on the victim’s religion, race, gender, disability, or sexual orientation.

Second-degree murder is any murder that is not willful or premeditated or doesn’t fit the descriptions above. 

Capital Murder

Capital murder, as noted earlier, is first-degree murder under special circumstances. It is called “capital” because it has only two possible penalties: capital punishment (the death penalty) and life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

The Penal Code lists 20 circumstances that can raise the charge to capital murder. Some of these are: 

  • Killing more than one person.

  • Killing for financial gain.

  • Killing a police officer, firefighter, prosecutor, judge, juror, or elected official.

  • Killing a witness to prevent their testimony.

  • A drive-by shooting with the intent to kill.

Possible Defenses

When you face any criminal charge, you are protected by your Constitutional rights to a speedy and fair trial by a jury of your peers, and prosecutors are obligated to prove their case “beyond a reasonable doubt.”  

The role of the defense is to cast doubt on all evidence and witness testimony, even to make pretrial motions to get some evidence or testimony excluded. The defense should also seek out and introduce new and what might be called exculpatory evidence to the case. 

If you are taken in on a murder investigation, or on any potential criminal charge, remember the words of the Miranda Rights warning: “Anything you say can and will be used against you.” In other words, don’t answer any questions until you’ve teamed up with a defense attorney. 

Trusted and Experienced Legal Counsel

If you or a loved one is facing an investigation or a charge involving murder, you need to reach out immediately and protect your rights with trusted legal counsel advising you. In Long Beach and the neighboring areas, contact me at McCready Law Group.  

Let me go over the details of everything with you and develop a solid defense strategy. Too much is at stake to hesitate and not start taking immediate steps toward reaching the best possible outcome. 

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