Murder Charges and Their Penalties
Murder in California can be prosecuted as either First Degree, Second Degree, or Capital murder. What might be called third-degree murder is tried as manslaughter, either voluntary or involuntary. Here are the factors determining which charge can be made:
First Degree Murder
The act must be willful, deliberate, and premeditated. Other factors can raise a charge to First Degree murder, including the use of a destructive device or weapon, lying in wait for the victim, the use of torture, and the commission of the killing while in the process of committing another felony, such as arson, robbery, burglary, rape, kidnapping and the like — otherwise known as felony murder. Penalties start at 25 years in state prison, and can escalate to life without parole and potentially the death penalty.
Second Degree Murder
Second-degree murder is defined as any killing that was willful and showed malice but was not deliberate or premeditated. In other words, it was not planned in advance. For example, shooting a gun into a crowded room and taking someone’s life in the heat of the moment could result in a second-degree murder charge. Penalties start at 15 years in prison, and can rise to life in prison. If the victim dies from the shooting of a firearm from a motor vehicle, the penalty can be raised to 20 years in prison.
Capital murder is essentially first-degree murder with “special circumstances,” so it must be deliberate and premeditated. There are a number of different special circumstances that can raise a charge to capital murder, including murder for financial gain, the murder of a public servant (police, fire, judicial), murder as a hate crime, the murder of a witness to prevent their testifying in court, and murder to benefit a street gang. Capital Murder applies also if the defendant has been previously convicted of first- or second-degree murder. The penalties for capital murder can range from life without parole to the death penalty.
Potential Defense Strategies
Defenses to a murder charge depend on the facts of the case and the actions of the police and prosecutors in pursuing the arrest and conviction. Defense tactics include outlining a defense based on:
- Self-Defense or The Defense of Others - Showing that you or others with or around you were in imminent danger of being killed, suffering great bodily harm, or being raped, robbed, or otherwise gravely abused.
- Accident or Misfortune - You had no criminal intent to do harm, nor malice or premeditation.
- Heat of Passion - You were provoked to action in response to someone else’s actions (the classic barroom brawl scenario, for instance), however, this defense is best for lowering the charge to manslaughter.
- Insanity - You did not understand the nature of the act and could not distinguish between right and wrong.
- False or Coerced Confession - Interrogators promised you a special deal — a lesser charge or sentence — if you confessed, and you felt compelled to agree to end the nightmare.
- Illegal Search and Seizure - Police seized evidence illegally or unreasonably, violating your Fourth Amendment rights, resulting in evidence that must be thrown out.
- Mistaken Identification - Perhaps the most significant contributing factor to wrongful convictions, an eyewitness points the finger at you mistakenly.
Don’t Face Your Murder Charges Alone
When you’re facing murder charges in California, it’s important that you get your defense team and strategy in place as quickly as possible. Working with a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney can help you navigate the justice system and work toward a more favorable outcome, employing the defense strategies outlined above along with a vigorous exercise of your rights. With significant consequences at stake, it is imperative that you have an experienced criminal defense attorney in your corner to protect your rights and fight aggressively to defend you against the charges you’re facing. So if you or someone you know is facing murder charges, or being investigated for any involvement in a murder, don’t wait. Call or reach out to my firm, McCready Law Group, today for reliable criminal defense services.