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How to Decide What Defense to Use If Charged with Murder?

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding, ESQ. | May 27, 2022

Murder cases are some of the most severe cases prosecuted in the criminal justice system.  Believe it or not, deciding the defense has to do with the type of case you are charged with.  In other words, you've got to look at whatever evidence the prosecutors are claiming they have against you and then look at what your defense is going to be.

California Penal Code 187 Murder

California Penal Code 187 describes the crime of murder as the unlawful killing of someone or a fetus with malice aforethought. First-degree murder charges will be filed for all premeditated killings and felony murder involving a scenario where someone dies during a rape, carjacking, robbery, or other serious offense.

A first-degree murder conviction carries a sentence of 25 years to life in a California state prison. If the killing involved torture or lying in wait, or a type of “special circumstance,” then the penalties include life in prison without parole or capital punishment.

If the case didn't involve premeditation, you would be charged with second-degree murder carrying 15 years to life in prison if convicted. In this article by our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys, we will review this topic further below.

What is a First-Degree Murder?

Prosecutors would file first-degree murder charges if the killing were willful, deliberate, and premeditated. Simply put, it was a planned, intentional act.

Further, you could also face first-degree murder charges if the killing involved a destructive device, explosive, or ammunition in penetrating metal or armor, poison, lying in wait, or inflicting torture.

What is a Second-Degree Murder?

Under California Penal Code 187 PC, second-degree murder is a willful act, but it's not deliberate, and there was no premeditation.

In other words, second-degree murder is any murder that doesn't fall under the category of first-degree murder. For example, firing a weapon toward a crowd of people made no intent to kill someone.

What is Capital Murder?

Capital murder is often called first-degree murder with special circumstances, which include a wide range of situations, such as;

  • killing of a police officer or firefighter;
  • killing a prosecutor, judge, or elected official;
  • killing someone due to their race, religion, or country of origin;
  • Killing was for the benefit of a gang or a drive-by shooting;
  • Killing a witness to stop them from testifying;
  • Killing was for financial gain;
  • Killing more than one person.

What Are the Common Legal Defenses for Murder?

There are multiple different defenses that I have used over the last 30 years in defending people charged with murder.  Sometimes you'll use self-defense, indicating that I was the one who killed the other person; however, I did so in self-defense.

Common Legal Defenses for Murder

Usually, to use the self-defense theory, you're going to have to be able to show that you were confronted with some deadly force – whether the other party had a weapon, a knife, a gun, or it was a scenario where you were involved in a fight.  You were losing the fight to such a high degree that you could have been killed, so you were forced to defend yourself. Other defenses could be that you are not the person who committed the murder:

  • You don't believe the prosecutors can prove it;
  • You didn't do it;
  • They don't have eyewitnesses;
  • They don't have video evidence;
  • They don't have physical evidence like ballistics, DNA, whatever the case may be.

So, you have to look at what type of case you have and then decide exactly what the defense will be.  Sometimes the defense has to do with problems with the prosecutor's case.  Prosecutors don't always have perfect evidence when it comes to murder cases.

Review of the Prosecutor's Evidence

I like to sit down with you, and we talk about what the evidence is on the other side, and then we talk about what we're going to do in defending you.

Another big thing in murder cases when you're talking about the best strategy to handle them is that you have to decide whether or not you, as a defendant, will testify in the case.

In other words, sometimes strategy-wise, it makes sense for you to testify because there might be gaps in the defense, and we want to make sure that if there are gaps, we're able to cover those gaps, and sometimes having you testify and putting your side of the story out there makes sense.

On the flip side, you testifying can sometimes be dangerous, again, depending on the circumstances of a particular case.  So, you have to look at everything as we decide exactly how we're going to handle the case – whether it's going to be a scenario where you testify or not.

We will also want to do our investigation – talk to witnesses, look at the prosecutor's case, and then decide what will make sense in giving you the best defense.

Should You Go to Trail or Negotiate a Plea Bargain?

Once we've done our investigation and looked at the prosecutor's case, we will sit down and decide exactly how to handle the case.  Another significant factor is, do we take the case to trial, and if we are going to take the case to trial, what's our theory going to be as to why you or your loved one is being blamed for a murder that they did not commit.

We've got to assess how the prosecutors are going to attack us – how they're going to say they've proven their case because once we do that, we can develop our defense and decide what our response to that attack will be.

California Murder Defense Lawyer

Of course, the response has to make sense, and it has to lead to the conclusion that you or your loved one is innocent, you didn't commit the crime, and the prosecutors have not proven the case. If guilt is not in doubt, we should consider negotiating a favorable plea bargain.

I've been doing this for 30 years if you want the best.  I started working for the District Attorney's office in the early 1990s.  Then I worked for a Superior Court judge, and then in 1994, I became a criminal defense attorney, and I began defending people just like you or your loved one.  I've handled many murder cases.  I've handled over 250 jury trials.  I've got a lot of experience.

If you need the best, and I think you do if you're being charged with murder because you're usually facing the rest of your life in prison, you've come to the right place.

Pick up the phone.  Make the call.  Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding.  I stand at the ready to help you. The Hedding Law Firm is located in Los Angeles County, and we offer a free case review by phone or by filling out the contact form.

About the Author

Ronald D. Hedding, ESQ.

Ronald D. Hedding, Esq., is the founding member of the Hedding Law Firm. Mr. Hedding has an extensive well-rounded legal background in the area of Criminal Law. He has worked for the District Attorney's Office, a Superior Court Judge, and as the guiding force behind the Hedding Law Firm. His multi-faceted experience sets Mr. Hedding apart and puts him in an elite group of the best Criminal Defense Attorneys in Southern California.