Under California law, murder is broadly defined as the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. First-degree murder is the unlawful killing of a human being with deliberation and premeditation. In order to convict a person for first-degree murder, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person both reflected on the killing before committing it, and carried out the killing in a cool and dispassionate manner. If a person is convicted of first-degree murder in California, they face a prison sentence of 25 years to life.
In addition, causing a death during the commission of an enumerated dangerous felony will be treated as first-degree murder as well. California has comprised a list of felonies that are treated as dangerous enough to warrant conviction of first-degree murder if the defendant causes a death while committing or attempting to commit the crime. Included among these crimes are arson, robbery, burglary, carjacking, train wrecking, kidnapping, mayhem, torture, and certain sex crimes.
The death does not necessarily have to be at the hands of the defendant. For example, if a person robs a bank and engages in a shoot out with the police, and a police officer accidentally shoots and kills a bystander, the defendant can be charged with the death of the bystander.
Second-degree murder is defined as all unlawful killings that are committed with malice aforethought but do not reach the level of premeditation and deliberation. If a person causes a death during the commission of an inherently dangerous felony not listed as one of the enumerated felonies under the first-degree felony murder rule, they can still be charged with second-degree murder.
If a defendant can show that they committed the killing in the heat of passion resulting from being adequately provoked, a first or second-degree murder charge can be mitigated to voluntary manslaughter. For example, if a person comes home and finds their spouse in bed with another person, causing them to be enraged and kill their spouse, the court will likely treat the killing as voluntary manslaughter.
There are also defenses to murder that can negate the charge completely. If a person can show that they were acting in self-defense, they may be able to avoid conviction. Likewise, if a person can show they were rendered insane at the time of the killing, they may be able to negate the charges.
In order to convict someone of attempted murder, the prosecution must prove that the defendant had the specific intent to murder someone, failed to complete the crime, but took a direct step in that direction beyond mere preparation. This may sound straightforward but in actuality it is very technical and complex. What is and is not considered a “direct step” may differ depending on the circumstances. It is imperative to speak to an attorney right away to ensure that you receive the best defense possible.
If you’ve been charged with murder or attempted murder, call the Champion Law Firm today to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney. Consultations are always free.
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