Orange County Murder Lawyer
Arrested for Murder in Southern California? Call the Firm for Help!
Homicide is the killing of one human being by another, and it is charged by prosecutors as either murder or manslaughter. Homicide can be either lawful or unlawful. If a person who kills has a legally valid justification or excuse for the killing, it will be deemed lawful, and he or she will not be found to have committed a crime. If no legally valid justification or excuse exists, the killing is deemed unlawful, and the individual will be found guilty of either murder or manslaughter. The prosecution has the burden of proving that the killing was an unlawful homicide beyond a reasonable doubt.
California Penal Code 187 defines murder as "the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought." Malice aforethought essentially means that the perpetrator intended to kill the victim. Malice aforethought is found when the killing was intentional, when the perpetrator's actions had natural consequences that are well-known to be dangerous to the life of a human, or when the perpetrator's actions were deliberately executed with conscious disregard for the victim's life.
There are three types of murder in California:
- First-degree murder;
- Second-degree murder; and
- Capital murder.
A homicide is a first-degree murder if it occurs under certain circumstances outlined in California law. These include killings committed:
- During the commission of certain felonies (e.g., during a burglary, arson, rape, robbery, or kidnapping);
- Using a designated means (e.g., a destructive device, an explosive, or a weapon of mass destruction);
- While lying in wait;
- Via torture; or
- In a willful, deliberate, premeditated manner.
In California, all murders that do not constitute first-degree murder are deemed second-degree murder unless the prosecutor chooses to charge the defendant with manslaughter.
Capital murder, the most serious of the California murder charges and the one most harshly punished, is a first-degree murder with special circumstances. These special circumstances include the murder of:
- A peace officer, firefighter, judge, juror, prosecutor, or elected official;
- A person because of his or her race, religion, gender, etc.;
- More than one victim; or
- For the purpose of financial gain.
Defenses to Murder Charges
A number of potentially successful defenses can be raised when a person is charged with murder in the state of California. Among others, these defenses include:
- Defense of another person;
- Heat of passion; or
- Accidental killing.
Sentencing for murder convictions can vary depending on the facts of the case and the defendant's criminal record. There are factors that can be either aggravating, which increase the sentence, or mitigating, which decrease it. Aggravating factors include those that pertain to aspects of the crime committed or to the defendant's past criminal behavior. Mitigating factors, such as the defendant's character or the crime's circumstances, may show the court that the defendant deserves a lesser sentence than he or she would typically receive.
For first-degree murder, a convicted person will be sentenced from 25 years in California state prison to life imprisonment, with a minimum of 25 years before there is a possibility of parole. If the prosecutor proves that the defendant committed the murder due to the victim's gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, nationality, or religion, i.e., if it was a "hate crime," then he or she will be sentenced to life in prison without any possibility of parole.
An individual who's convicted of a second-degree murder will face 15 years in state prison to life imprisonment. Certain circumstances can increase this sentence. For instance, if the victim was a peace officer, the sentence will be increased to 25 years to life.
Punishment for a capital murder conviction consists of the death penalty – by lethal injection or the gas chamber – or a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Orange County Murder Defense Lawyer
If you or someone you care about has been charged with murder in Orange County or its surrounding areas and would like to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney, call (714) 987-2671 today. Los Angeles defense attorney Scott D. Hughes has represented numerous clients who were facing convictions for murder. Our team of criminal defense lawyers is assertive, professional, and ready to help you.
- Aggravating and Mitigating Factors: Jurors Must Weigh the Circumstances, About.
- California Peace Officers' Penal Code Law Summaries, 2016, Lawtech Publishing Group.
- California Penal Code Section 187, Legal Info California.
- Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions, Lexis Nexis, 2016.