California Penal Code 187 defines the crime of murder as the unlawful killing of someone or a fetus with malice aforethought.
First-degree murder charges include all premeditated killings along with felony murder which involves a situation where somebody dies during a rape, carjacking, or robbery, or other types of serious crimes.
If you are convicted of first-degree murder, you are facing a sentence of 25 years to life in a California state prison.
However, if the killing involved torture or lying in wait, or another type of “special circumstance,” you will be sentenced to life in prison without parole or capital punishment.
In a case where murder didn't involve premeditation, it will be charged as a second-degree murder that carries a sentence of 15 years to life in prison if convicted.
Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers will take a closer look at the murder laws below.
What is a Second-Degree Murder?
Under Penal Code 187 PC, second-degree murder is a willful act, but not deliberate and there was no premeditation.
Put simply, second-degree murder is any murder that doesn't fall under the umbrella of first-degree murder.
For instance, firing a weapon toward a crowd of people and there was no intent to kill somebody.
What is a First-Degree Murder?
First-degree murder charges will be filed if the killing was willful, deliberate, and premeditated. In other words, it was an intentional act, such as driving to somebody's home with the specific intent to kill them.
You could also be charged with first-degree murder if the killing involved a destructive device or explosive, or ammunition to penetrate metal or armor, using poison, lying in wait, or inflicting torture.
What is Capital Murder?
Capital murder is frequently called first-degree murder with special circumstances.
The circumstances include a wide range of situations, such as any of the following:
- killing a police officer or firefighter;
- killing a prosecutor, judge, or elected official;
- killing someone based on 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 giving testimony;
- Killing was for financial gain;
- Killing more than one person.
What is the Felony Murder Rule?
Felony murder is killing somebody while committing a dangerous felony crime. For example, committing robbery of a convenience store and shooting and killing the clerk.
The felony murder rule in California was recently changed in 2018 by Governor Jerry Brown by signing Senate Bill 1437.
Under the old law, accomplices were charged with murder while committing a felony even if it was an accident.
Now, to be charged with PC 187 murder, they must be the actual killer, or they had the intent to kill someone.
Has the Huge Onslaught of Cases in LA County Affected Prosecutors Offering Better Resolutions in Murder Cases?
I've been practicing criminal defense now for almost 30 years and these are certainly unprecedented times.
If you or a loved one is charged with murder and are looking for a good criminal defense attorney, obviously you're going to look at all of the angles and try to figure out what the best angle is for you and your loved one.
Most of the time, you're looking for a criminal defense attorney for your loved ones because they're in custody. If they're charged with murder, the bail is typically very high.
I would say to a small percentage, some of the smaller, weaker murder cases where the person has a defense or there are some other underlying circumstances are going to be impacted by the virus.
The onslaught of all of these cases that are going to be tried but have been waiting because of the pandemic.
But, in large part, when it comes to murder cases, especially if they're gang-related (Penal Code 186.22 PC), the prosecutors do not budge as far as their difficult stances go and make offers that people simply can't take because they're so high. I think a lot of these cases are going to be the ones that end up going to trial first.
Why You Need an Experienced Criminal Lawyer
You've got to get the best criminal defense attorney on your side — someone who's battle-tested, who knows how to fight these prosecutors. I've been doing this now for a long time. In 1994, I tried my first murder case and I've been trying them ever since.
They're not that much different than other cases, except, everything is on the line because if the person is convicted they will usually go away for life and never be able to get out.
Also, because of the nature of the case, the government will put their best prosecutors to try to prosecute the person and they'll also have the best investigative team — the detectives who are part of the homicide unit in whatever police department is investigating the case.
That means you and your loved one are going to need the best criminal defense attorney someone who's fought these cases before, someone who knows the angles and can give the person the best chance to win or get their case mitigated down to something less, again, depending on the circumstances.
Some of these cases can be negotiated, but you have to have an attorney who can fight the case because that attorney will be able to point out the weaknesses and issues, in comparison to other murder cases in LA county.
So, you've come to the right place. If you want somebody who's going to fight for your loved one who's been doing this almost 30 years and had a lot of success over those years, you've come to the right place.
Pick up the phone. Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding. I stand at the ready to help. Hedding Law Firm is located in Los Angeles County and we offer a free case evaluation by calling (213) 542-0979.