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Murder Law in California - Penal Code 187 PC

California homicide law divides the act of killing another human being into two categories: murder and manslaughter.­ There is a first and second-degree murders. Penal Code 187 defines murder as “the unlawful killing of a human being or fetus with malice aforethought.”

When it comes to a murder charge pending in one of the Los Angeles courts, if you cannot beat the case, you either have to hope the prosecutors dismiss it – which is probably unlikely – or work out a resolution with the prosecutors.

This might be impossible because they want such a high sentence for the particular defendant, and the defendant doesn't want to take that sentence. Sometimes the case is over-charged. So, what ends up happening is you've got to come up with a way to beat the case.

Murder Defense

When it comes to trying to beat a California Penal Code Section 187 murder charge, there are a number of different angles that can be taken, one of which is when the case is all said and done – the prosecution has had their opportunity to present evidence, the defense had their opportunity to present evidence, and now the case is going to be given to the jury.

 First, they're going to do the closing arguments, and then the jury is going to be given jury instructions to look at. As a defense attorney, you can ask for jury instruction for a lesser-included crime if you can make sure that the right evidence was presented during the trial.

Obviously, that's going to have to be relevant to your case, but if you get it then the jury, when they see that instruction – and of course, the attorney can reference it during the closing argument – they can say, yeah, that sounds more like what happened here, not a murder charge.

It sounds more like a voluntary manslaughter charge for example. There are a number of other different lesser offenses of murder. So, that's one way that you could use, as a defense attorney, to win a murder case: the jury finds your client not guilty of murder but guilty of something else. Many people are being charged with Penal Code 187 PC second-degree murder related to Fentanyl deaths across California.

Presumption of Innocence

Obviously, the main way the people would like – and probably think about – is that the jury finds the person not guilty of the murder charge. In order to do this, you're talking about a fact-specific situation.

The jury will look at the facts of the case, and there will have to be some problem with the prosecutor's case. The prosecution has the burden. The defendant is presumed innocent, so you ask the jury at the beginning of the case – which I do, and I've done a lot of murder cases – I say, hey, if you had to vote right now, how would you vote juror #8 for example?

And if the answer is anything but not guilty we have a problem. They need to be talked to and explained that there is a presumption of innocence, meaning this person is presumed innocent right now.

Unless the prosecutors can prove different, you must find the person not guilty. So, that's where you'll attack the prosecutor's case. Is it an eye-witness case? Is there a problem with the eyewitness evidence?

Do they have any type of physical evidence? Could somebody else be involved? Is there an alibi that can be utilized because the person was in a different location when this alleged murder occurred? So, you really just want to look at what happened in the case and then at the facts, and then you decide, as a defense attorney with your client, what your theory of the case will be and how you're going to win the case.

Self-Defense Argument

Other successful arguments that I see utilized in a murder case to win it is concepts like self-defense and mutual combat. In other words, I killed the person, but the person attacked me, and I was trying to defend myself.

The key in these types of arguments is if somebody is using deadly force against you, you certainly can use deadly force to defend yourself. You don't have to retreat if somebody attacks you. You can stand your ground.

There are all kinds of jury instructions and laws on this concept. Sometimes people agree to fight, and things go too far, and someone ends up dead, which is a tragedy, but it doesn't necessarily mean that it's a murder case.

Where you'd have a problem, obviously, though, if somebody used a certain amount of force – let's say fists – and you now resort to using a weapon – that's going to make it a very difficult argument for your defense attorney to say that you're completely not guilty and that it's a justifiable homicide versus a murder.

So, again, it's going to depend on the facts of the case. You certainly cannot use deadly force to defend property, but you could use deadly force if somebody broke into your home and you felt like your life was in danger, or your family's life was in danger, then you could use deadly force to defend yourself and your family. So again, it just depends on the circumstances of the case.

Reviewing Best Defense Strategy

What I have people do in these murder cases is we go through it, step by step, exactly what happened, and then once we have it all laid out, then we can really have an honest and direct conversation about what we're going to do. What's the defense going to be?

If this is the case where we need to negotiate or is this a case that we're going to fight, and that's really made in the privacy of your criminal defense attorney's office. Because obviously, a murder charge is very serious, and if you're convicted of it, you're going to go away for a long time.

In fact, you may go away for the rest of your life. So, it's not a decision to be taken lightly. You really have to sit down with your California criminal defense attorney – and the best attorneys in Los Angeles know the right moves to make and have the wisdom and experience to guide you through a sometimes very difficult system.

Traits of the Best Murder Defense Attorneys in Los Angeles

When you or a family member is charged with a murder case, it is difficult to figure out exactly who is the best criminal defense attorney to represent you. This is so difficult because it is not something you have experience in dealing with, and you have limited ways to verify the attorneys' claims on the internet.

Your best strategy is to first see if the attorney has the experience and credentials you are looking for in an attorney and then set up a face-to-face meeting with them so you can ask some pointed questions and get a feel for the type of person you want handling such an important case.

By meeting with them face to face you will get a feel for the type of person they are and how persuasive they will be with the jury and judge. If you like them and feel comfortable with them, you are on your way toward finding the person you need to save you or your loved one's life. We have several articles on how to defend murder charges, including the following:

I have handled over 200 jury trials over the course of the past 25 years and have defended murder cases all over Los Angeles County under some serious pressure with the most severe consequences on the line.

When your client is facing the rest of their life in prison, you as an attorney must come up with the most powerful strategy for your client and do everything within your power to give them the best possible defense.

One of the biggest keys that I have seen in a successful murder defense is preparation. When I go to trial I have a powerful theory of how our case will be tried, and I then marshal everything related to the case around that theory.

That means every question asked of the witnesses during the trial wrapping our theory in every statement we make during the course of the murder trial. And then, at the end of the closing argument, I pull it all together and show the jury why my client is innocent or deserves to be convicted of a lesser charge and not murder.

Critical To Have a Lawyer With Experience in Murder Cases

The charge of murder is the highest crime known to man, and it, therefore, carries penalties that are extremely harsh. Most individuals convicted will never be released from prison. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that you hire an attorney that has vast experience in dealing with murder charges.

A person charged with murder typically only receives one chance to properly defend themselves; if convicted, it will be too late to help them. I have handled countless murder cases over my years of practice.

If you or your loved one's life is on the line, contact a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer at our office, and let's meet and discuss what is necessary to be successful. I stand at the ready to help you. Please review my credentials; they are unmatched!

Murder cases are difficult to defend because the system treats them with high resources. Meaning the best detectives are assigned to investigate them, and the best prosecutors are assigned to prosecute them.

Because life has been lost in a murder case, public policy demands that the prosecutors pull out all the stops to investigate and prosecute the person charged with murder. That means they will stop at nothing to see that the client is convicted of murder. They have plenty of resources available to them to get the job done. Very few defense attorneys can match them; that's where I come in.

How Can You Decide When to Take a Murder Charge to Trial?

Suppose you or a loved one is charged with murder. In that case, you're probably looking around trying to find an attorney – someone who has experience in trying and successfully defending murder cases or someone who can negotiate maybe a better deal than a murder charge, where the person is facing 25 to life or more.

As you do this, you have to decide whether or not it's something that makes sense to take to trial and fight.  The first criterion and, of course, it's obvious whether or not you can win. If you can't win the case, you don't take the case to trial because then you're just going to end up with a huge sentence, and the person you're trying to get the attorney for will never come out of custody again.

So, you have to ensure you can win the case.  How you figure that out is through the evidence.  Can the prosecutors prove that you or your loved one is guilty of the murder charge? 

That you killed someone, number one, and that you acted with malice and forethought when you did it.  You didn't have self-defense, defense of others or some other defense like you weren't the people who committed the murder.

When you decide, you've got to look at the evidence.  That's obviously, something that I do.  I go piece by piece, what evidence the prosecutors will put against you and whether or not a jury would believe you're guilty of the crime. 

Sometimes people not having gone through a trial before can't really understand how to evaluate the evidence, how it relates to you, and whether you would be found guilty of the charges the prosecutors have leveled against you.

As we evaluate the evidence, we have to see whether you have a defense.  In other words, is there evidence available that you can argue – either you're not the person who perpetrated this murder, or you are the person who committed the killing? However, you have a defense, so it's not murder.  It is a homicide that occurred, but it's excusable because you were defending yourself, for example. 

There are a whole bunch of different plot twists that can present themselves in murder cases.  That's why having the best attorney is crucial because those battle-tested attorneys are the ones that can help tip the scales in your favor.

If you can't win, the same battle-tested attorneys can negotiate a resolution that puts you in the best possible position.

Real Case Example of Murder Case

The following is an example of a real-life murder case where my client was found not guilty – my client was charged with first-degree murder and a number of other serious crimes. He admitted to the police that he fired the weapon (that was recovered and test fired and determined by an expert to be the weapon that was used in the killing).

After an approximately week-long trial, the jury found my client not guilty of murder and all other charges. Before the trial, because of the overwhelming evidence, the defense offered to plead guilty to second-degree murder, which would have carried a sentence of 15 years to life, and the head prosecutor refused. This case is an example of what a skilled defense attorney can do to an unprepared/outmatched prosecutor's case.

An accusation of murder is one of the most serious charges a person can face. In California, for intentional homicide, you will be facing either a first or second-degree murder charge. First-degree murder is when an intentional death results due to malice aforethought, premeditation, on the part of the killer.

Second-degree murder is a homicide that is intentional, without malice or premeditation, and takes place in the heat of passion, such as in a domestic violence situation. Both 1st and 2nd-degree murders are felony offenses in the state of California and will be punished severely.

Murder is regarded worldwide as one of the most heinous criminal acts one can commit. It is viewed by society as evil and is a crime that shows extreme disregard for another person's life. In Los Angeles County alone, over 500 murders are committed every year.

In most cases, the individuals convicted of these murders were committing other violent crimes such as rape, robbery, kidnapping, or arson. In California, you may face the following sentences for 1st or 2nd-degree murder:

1st-Degree Murder:

  • Life imprisonment or the death penalty
  • No possibility of parole

2nd Degree Murder:

  • Life imprisonment
  • Possibility of parole after 15 years served

Los Angeles Criminal Defense Law Firm

At the Hedding Law Firm, our attorneys believe that if you are being investigated or have been arrested for murder then it is critical to your case that you retain the services of an experienced and aggressive defense lawyer immediately.

It is very important that our firm can begin our own investigation as soon as possible in order to preserve evidence that may benefit your case. Our law firm will challenge the charges against you and make every attempt to have them lowered or dismissed completely.

Your constitutional rights are very important to us! We will fight to obtain the best outcome for your particular case.

Contact a Los Angeles murder/homicide criminal defense attorney at our law firm today to discuss the details that led to your arrest. We also discuss cases with family members who are trying to help those charged with murder or attempted murder related to legal fees and the best course of action moving forward.

We will also go and visit the person in jail, so they are comfortable with our representation and know exactly what the game plan will be moving forward.

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