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First-Degree Murder in California

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding | Apr 27, 2023

Those people who are charged with California Penal Code 187 PC first-degree murder are facing a minimum sentence of 25 to life if convicted.  I say minimum sentence because many times in these murder cases, there are other cases or special allegations that are added against the person. 

For example, firing a weapon and striking somebody adds 25 years to any sentence. Gang allegations can add additional time as well. 

So, have to look at what all the charges are and what all of the special enhancements are before you have an idea of the total sentence the person is facing. But, still, you get the idea that anybody charged with murder will face much time in prison.

Police Investigation

That's why I break these cases down.  First, there's an investigation done by the police after the murder occurs.

First-Degree Murder in California

They sent out special investigators, usually from the robbery/homicide division, with much experience. They also can use scientific evidence to be able to prove cases. For example:

  • They can use DNA evidence if that is relevant in the case;
  • They can also use phone technology through ping experts.

Many times, especially in Los Angeles County, they'll call a former FBI agent or even a current FBI agent who can talk about how phone pinging works to track somebody's device and try to prove where they were at the time of a particular murder.

There are all sorts of other scientific evidence as it relates to murder cases, but it doesn't always apply to every single case.

During the investigative phase, the police will talk to witnesses and get statements.  All of this will be provided to the defense once the case is filed and the first court appearance is made. 

Then the defense gets to review everything and do any investigation they deem appropriate. So I've had cases that I've investigated before I got the information, obviously because I got retained early and knew what the allegations were, at least generally, so I could do my investigation and hire my experts if necessary.

District Attorney's Office

After the investigation phase, the case is submitted to the district attorney's office, and they decide whether or not to file a murder charge.  If they do, the person is arrested if they weren't already arrested at the time of the murder and are taken into custody. 

Typically, a standard bail in California for murder is 2 million dollars.  If there are other enhancements or counts, that can add extra bail on top of the $2 million. The person is arrested, taken into custody, and stays in custody during the pendency of the case unless they can bail out of the case. 

Retain a Defense Lawyer Immediately

If you're looking for an attorney at this point, you want to hire one immediately because another thing that the investigators do is try to take a statement from the person. They're supposed to read them their Miranda rights, and they try to get them to confess to the crime or give information that they can use to help prove that the person is guilty. 

That's why attorneys say never talk to the police, because when the police take a statement, they're not looking for the truth. They're not looking to get information. 

They're looking to try to get information to convict the person.  So, it doesn't make sense why anybody would talk to someone who is the subject of a murder investigation.

Court Arraignment

The first court appearance is called the arraignment.  The person will typically get the following:

  • All the discovery at that point;
  • Any statements,
  • Videos, or
  • Scientific evidence.

I have noticed, though, especially in Los Angeles County and even other counties because I've done many murders in Riverside and San Bernardino – they don't usually give all of the information at the first court appearance. 

We have to file a motion to request it.  They're supposed to give it, but sometimes you must pull it out of the prosecutors because they're getting it from the police.

Preliminary Hearing

Once you have all of the information, you review it and go over it with your client. Eventually, suppose it's not a case that will get resolved.

In that case, you're going to have what's called a preliminary hearing, where the government has to put on the evidence to prove the case – at least prima facie – where they meet all of the elements to get passed the preliminary hearing. 

Of course, the defense attorney gets to cross-examine all witnesses.  Suppose the case is going to go to trial. In that case, this is an excellent opportunity to work on the defense's theory of the case and get some evidence out there that could be helpful to the defense, locked in under penalty of perjury.  So, the preliminary hearing, especially in a murder case, is crucial.

I see some people making the foolish mistake of hiring a cheap lawyer for the preliminary hearing. But then, that lawyer realizes they can't handle the murder case, gets scared, and tells the people that they don't handle murder cases passed the preliminary hearing. 

Trial Court

You don't want that attorney. But, you need an attorney that's going to be able to try the case if it's a triable case and needs to go to trial.  So, after the preliminary hearing, the case is sent to one of the trial courts in the courthouse where it is pending, and eventually, it will go to trial.

Motions can be filed along the way if they're applicable, and of course, one of the motions could be a motion to dismiss if the prosecutors do not meet their burden at a preliminary hearing.

If you or a loved one is looking for a criminal defense attorney with much experience defending murder cases, you've come to the right place.  I've been doing this for over 30 years.

I started working for the district attorney's office in the early 1990s. Then a superior court judge, and finally, in 1994, I became a criminal defense attorney and have been defending people ever since. So if you need the best, pick up the phone and ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding.

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About the Author

Ronald D. Hedding

What Makes Ronald Hedding Uniquely Qualified To Represent You? I've been practicing criminal defense for almost 30 years and have handled thousands of cases, including all types of state and federal sex crime cases. All consultations are discreet and confidential.