If someone dies because of your actions, you could face criminal charges under California law. Killing someone in California is a serious offense chargeable under Penal Code 187. You could face hefty penalties and a jail term if the court finds you guilty of the crime. Depending on the circumstances of your case, the prosecutor could prosecute the death as vehicular manslaughter, capital murder, first-degree murder, or second-degree murder, among others. If you or your loved one faces murder charges, it is essential to talk to a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. A murder conviction can be life-altering and, in certain situations, can cost your life. At Koenig Law Office, we can help you navigate the criminal justice system and get a favorable judgment for your case in Bakersfield, CA.
Murder is the illegal killing of a fetus or a human being with malice aforethought. Murder is the exception of abortions consented to by the fetus's mother. The act of abortion is essential when it complies with the Therapeutic Abortion Act to preserve the mother’s life. The California statute Penal Code 187 defines and explains the crime of murder. The California PC 187 requires the prosecutor to prove the following elements to convict you of murder:
- You caused the death of someone else or a fetus
- You acted with malice aforethought
- You killed without legal excuse or justification
Degrees Of Murder In California
Under California homicide law, the act of killing someone else falls into two categories:
Murder comprises first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and capital murder. First-degree murder includes premeditated killings and felony murder, where another person dies when you commit rape, carjacking, robbery, or other serious felony offense. Under California law, there are several ways of committing first-degree murder. They include:
- By a deliberate, willful, and premeditated killing
- By inflicting torture according to Penal Code 206
- By using an explosive, a destructive device, a weapon of mass destruction, or poison
- Felony murder is where you directly kill another person while committing certain felonies
- By lying in wait
Examples of first-degree murder are:
- Using a pipe bomb to perpetrate a killing
- Going to another person's house to kill them
- Waiting for another person to appear and you kill
Second-degree murder does not involve premeditated killing. According to Penal Code 187 of the California law, second-degree murder is also willful. However, it is not deliberate. Examples of second-degree murder are:
- Viciously sucker-punching a smaller and inebriated person where the punch makes a person fall and hit their head, an injury that proves fatal.
- Shooting a gun into a crowded room and killing another person. You could face second-degree murder charges even if you did not intend to kill. This action also violates Penal Code 246.3, negligently discharging a firearm.
- An individual with a history of DUIs, drunk drives again, causing an accident and killing another person
Capital murder is also called ‘’first-degree murder with special situations’’. Penal Code 190.2 highlights 20 special situations associated with capital murder in California. These special situations elevate first-degree murder to capital murder. Some of the special situations include:
- Killing someone because of their religion, race, color, country of origin, and nationality
- Gang killing according to Penal Code 186.22
- Killing for financial gain
- Drive-by shooting
- Killing a witness to prevent them from testifying
- Killing more than one victim
- Killing a police officer, juror, elected official, prosecutor, or a firefighter
Unlike murder, manslaughter is charged under Penal Code 192 of the California criminal law because it is a less severe form of homicide. Manslaughter has classes like voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, and vehicular manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter involves heat of passion killings that are unplanned.
Voluntary manslaughter is an intentional killing caused by a conscious disregard for human life or extremely risky behavior.
Vehicular manslaughter is killing another person unintentionally in a car accident. You could face felony or misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charges based on the circumstances of your case.
Malice differentiates the crime of murder from manslaughter crime. Under California law, the crime of murder must involve malice for it to be valid in court. Malice is defined under California homicide law as ‘’the mental state consisting of a desire to harm someone or malice aforethought.” If you have a wanton disregard for human life, you will do an act with a high probability of causing death. Both first- and second-degree murder need malice to qualify as serious crimes under California law. Malice could be implied or express. Malice is implied if:
- The killing was an intentional act.
- The act’s natural consequences are harmful to human life
- You were aware of the danger to human life, and you acted with a conscious disregard for human life
Express malice means showing an intention of killing someone else.
The Statute Of Felony Murder In California
You could face felony murder charges if you kill someone while committing a felony. For instance, you could hold up a cashier and kill them when he/she reaches for the phone. Killing the cashier is murder, while robbery is a felony. It does not matter whether you did not intend to kill the cashier. The old California criminal statute held that accidental killings were murder if they happened during a felony. The statute also held accomplices responsible for felony murder. Currently, the felony murder statute in California has changed. Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a revision on September 30, 2018. According to SB 1437, you can only face felony charges if:
- You were the actual murderer.
- Played a significant role in the underlying felony, and you acted with reckless indifference to human life.
- Murdered a law enforcement officer on duty, and you were aware or should have known of the person's status as a law enforcement officer.
Today in California, accidental and negligent deaths that happen during the commission of felonies do not amount to felony murder unless you killed a law enforcement officer on duty. You have redress if you are charged according to the old felony murder statute. You can file a petition for fresh charges based on SB 1437.
The statute of felony murder applies to both first and second-degree murder. The first-degree felony murder law applies during the commission of the following:
- Mayhem — Penal Code 203
- Torture — Penal Code 206
- Kidnapping — Penal Code 207
- Robbery — Penal Code 211
- Carjacking —Penal Code 215
- Arson— Penal Code 451
- Burglary—Penal Code 459
- Certain California sex crimes like rape PC 261, unlawful acts of sodomy, among others
The second-degree felony murder law applies to felonies that are:
- Not included under the first-degree felony murder law
- Inherently dangerous
The above felonies often cause fatal risks. Inherently dangerous felonies do not have a setlist. Therefore, the judges in California apply the second-degree felony murder law, case-by-case.
Penalties For Murder Crimes In California
The crime of murder in California is charged based on the degree. If you are charged with first-degree murder PC 187, you could face a jail term of 25 years to life in state prison. You could also face life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (LWOP) if it was a hate crime. Hate murder offense is based on the victim's gender, nationality, race, sexual orientation, disability, or religion.
If you are charged with second-degree murder, you could face a jail term of 15 years to life in state prison. However, you could face an increased sentence if any of the following aggravating factors are present:
- You would face life imprisonment without the possibility of parole if you intended to kill, or intended to inflict significant bodily injury, or killed a peace officer using a deadly weapon
- You will face a jail term of 25 years to life if you kill a peace officer
- You will face life imprisonment without a possibility of parole if you have served a prior murder sentence
- You will face a jail term of 20 years to life if you shot from a vehicle intending to cause serious injury to another person
The most severe homicide charge in California is capital murder. You could face the following penalties if you are found guilty of capital murder crime:
- Life imprisonment without the possibility of parole
- The death punishment by choice of intravenous injection of a lethal substance or a lethal dose of gas
Governor Gavin Newsom pronounced a temporary moratorium on executions on March 12, 2019.
He cited the disproportionate number of minorities and the dangers of executing innocent defendants. After the governor's moratorium, the prosecutors in California no longer seek the death penalty.
The murder statute in California could impose on you additional penalties as follows:
- You could face additional 10, 20, or 25 years to life imprisonment if you used a firearm while committing a felony
- A strike according to California’s Three Strike Law
- You could face a sentence enhancement if you used a gun or if the crime was gang-related
- A fine that does not exceed $10,000
- Victim restitution
- You could lose your gun rights according to PC 29800; a felon with a firearm
You could also be forced to register for life as a tier three sex offender if the court convicts you of murder while trying to commit the following:
- Forcible penetration with a foreign object
- Oral copulation with a minor
- Lewd acts with a child under 14 years
Defenses To PC 187 Charges
There are several legal defense strategies for fighting homicide charges based on the facts of your case. Presenting justifiable and excusable homicide could lead to acquittal or dismissal. Some of the defenses include:
According to the research carried out in California, the greatest cause of wrongful convictions arises from mistaken identification. Mistaken identification causes many innocent people to be convicted more than all other causes combined. Several factors could hinder an eyewitness from identifying the actual suspect. Some of the factors are:
- The passage of time
- The stress of the encounter
- Improper suggestions by police
- Fixation on a weapon
- The suspect is from a different race
The prosecutors in California often base many of the cases on questionable eyewitness identification. However, a criminal defense attorney could explore several options to fight the charges. The options could include:
- Contacting an eyewitness identification expert at trial where he/she could highlight to the jury how memory processes work. This could show the jury how common mistakes are.
- Requesting a live lineup to see if the eye witness really can differentiate and identify a defendant
- Challenging the police procedures in previous photo spreads and lineups
The attorney could seek to have the identifications removed from the evidence. The important thing is for the attorney to show that the identification is not reliable. The attorney could also show the reasonable doubt that exists as to the identification of the actual perpetrator.
Defense Of Others Or Self-defense
In certain situations, the California self-defense statute allows killing. Under California homicide statute, you are allowed to kill if you reasonably believe that you or another person is in imminent danger of:
- Being robbed, raped, maimed, or being a victim of some other atrocious and forcible crime
- Being killed
- Suffering a significant bodily injury
There is an imperfect self-defense doctrine (flannel) in California. This is where you can kill another person based on an honest but unreasonable belief that you face imminent danger. However, imperfect self-defense can only reduce a murder case to voluntary manslaughter, but it cannot dismiss the case.
Unlawful Search And Seizure
The law in California permits searches and seizures of a murder suspect's property. However, there are limits on the law enforcers under the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures.
At times, the police overlook the Fourth Amendment, which is when the criminal defense attorney comes in handy to petition in court. The attorney can request the judge to remove the unlawfully obtained evidence from the trial. The attorneys often present this defense through Penal Code 1538.5, a motion to suppress evidence. The prosecutor could be unable to proceed with the case if the judge grants the motion and suppresses the evidence. Your PC 187 charges could then be dismissed.
The Defense Of Insanity And The M'Naghten Law
California law permits you to plead ''not guilty by insanity reason''. The M'Naghten test is the legal standard for insanity. According to the M'Naghten test, you must provide sufficient evidence that you only killed because:
- You could not differentiate between wrong and right
- You did not understand the nature of the act
An accident is a lawful defense to PC 187 murder charges in California. This could be the case if you:
- Had no criminal intent to cause harm
- Were not acting negligently
- Were otherwise engaged in illegal activity at the time of the killing
False And Coerced Confessions
The law in California calls on law enforcers to follow proper Miranda and constitutional protections. The police are not allowed to coerce you to confess that you committed a crime. Coercive and unlawful interrogation methods are:
- Offering more lenient treatment in exchange for a confession
- Making threats against you or your family
- Threatening you with a death penalty
There is an answer if the law enforcement officers coerce an involuntary confession. The judge could remove the confession from the evidence because of the law enforcers' unlawful coercion. Social science research reveals that coercion has led to many innocent people's prosecutions and convictions. However, coercion is rare in California.
There are several offenses closely related to PC 187, the murder statute. Some are felonies that trigger the felony murder law, while others are associated with the illegal killing of another person. Related offenses include:
Aiding Suicide — Penal Code 401
Penal code 401 defines aiding suicide as a deliberate act of encouraging, advising, or assisting another person to commit suicide. The difference between murder and aiding suicide can be blurry. Killing someone at their request is murder, while aiding suicide is providing a person with the means to kill themselves. Helping suicide is a felony under California law. You could face a jail term of up to three years.
You could violate California’s attempted murder law if you do the following:
- Make at least a direct but ineffective step to kill someone else
- Intend to kill the person
If the court finds you guilty of this crime, you could face a life sentence with the possibility of parole. According to California's three-strikes law, you could also face a strike, substantial fines, and victim restitution.
Voluntary Manslaughter — Penal Code 192 (a)
You could face the charges under PC 192 (a) if you kill someone in the heat of the moment or during a sudden quarrel. This type of crime is done spontaneously. If you are charged with voluntary manslaughter, you could face a jail term of three, six, or eleven years. Other related offenses include:
- DUI murder
- Attempted murder, among others
Find A Bakersfield Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If you face murder charges, you could face detrimental penalties. You need to contact a competent attorney to walk you through this situation. Koenig Law office has many years of experience in California’s legal system. Our attorneys will help you make a solid defense to fight your charges in Bakersfield, CA. Contact us at 661-793-7222 and talk to one of our attorneys.