This is a an important topic because it's not always clear to people why they're being charged with murder or why their loved one is being charged with murder in Los Angeles county and why the courts have taken the case, especially when it involves multiple defendants in a case and it's a confusing fact pattern.
People can't figure out what evidence the prosecutors have against them or their loved one and they're constantly saying to me, I don't understand why my son, daughter, brother, sister was charged with murder under California Penal Code 187. What evidence do they have?
Eyewitness Identification & Defendant's Own Statements
The type of evidence that you're usually going to see in a murder case is identification by eye-witnesses. For example, somebody would see the murder. Somebody would see who the shooter was if it was a shooting, and then that person would be able to testify and pick the person out of a line-up, whether it be a photographic or live in person line-up. So, that would be one example of evidence that prosecutors could use in a murder case.
Believe it or not, some of the most powerful evidence that I see used in murder cases, and I've been doing this for twenty-five years and handled a lot of murder cases, is the defendant's own statement. They'll start talking about the murder. They'll make admissions.
Even defendants who deny certain things related to a murder charge, if they admit other things, that evidence can very effectively be used against them.
I had a big murder case downtown about twenty years ago. We had a great defense in the case. The prosecutors though did have the defendant in Spanish on video tape talking about his actions surrounding the murder case, and some of the things that he said were very incriminating.
That evidence was so effective to the prosecutor and so important to the prosecutor that they had that video subtitled for the jury and they played it in the opening statement.
They played it during the testimony and then they played it again in the closing argument. That gives you an idea of how impactful a defendant's statement is in a murder case or any criminal charge. That's why defense attorneys are always say, don't make a statement.
DNA and Physical Evidence
You're not going to have the same evidence in every single murder case. But other evidence they could have could be DNA or physical evidence like fingerprints. There's all sorts of DNA experts who can come in.
If there's blood, for example. I had a murder charge in the Van Nuys court years ago where the day that I got on the case, the prosecutor handed me something and it was basically the victim's blood was found on a boot inside my client's closet when they executed a search warrant. That's evidence. That's an example. They're trying to build a chain of evidence in a murder case.
A lot of times they don't have murders on video where you can just see the person who shoots him and that's it. There's no argument about it unless there's some sort of self-defense claim.
But, they usually don't have that, so they're going to have to prove the case in a different way. They don' t have to have every single murder case on video. They're going to have to have a chain of evidence that after the jury looks at it leads to the conclusion that the defendant is the one that committed the murder.
Proving Murder Case Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
They have to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt and prove all the elements of the crime listed under CALCRIM 520 Jury Instructions. The defendant will start with the presumption of innocence, meaning they're going to be presumed innocent of that murder charge.
Unless the prosecution can bring on evidence that tips the scales in their favor enough so the jury can find beyond a reasonable doubt that the person is guilty of the murder, then that person is going to have to be found not-guilty.
So, that starts to give you an idea of what evidence would be necessary in a murder case. There's going to be eye-witnesses. There's going to be physical evidence, DNA evidence. There's other things that can apply in a particular case depending on the circumstances of the murder.
But those are the two that I see a lot, which is witnesses pointing the defendant out and the defendant themselves making incriminating statements. Also, getting some good DNA evidence always helps the prosecutors to solidify their case and show the jury that the defendant is guilty.
You're also going to have either direct evidence or indirect evidence like circumstantial evidence. So, they don't always have to have eye-witnesses or DNA evidence. An example of circumstantial evidence would be, let's say that a mom bakes a pie and little three-year-old boy is in the kitchen.
She leaves the pie with the boy. She comes back ten minutes later and the pie has gotten a big bite taken out of it and she asks the boy, did you bite that pie? The boy says, no I didn't bite the pie.
So, does that mean the boy's innocent? No. You're going to look for circumstantial evidence. The boy has cherry juice all over his mouth. There's crumbs all down his shirt. The boy's the only one in the house. So, you can start to mount the argument that the boy's the one that bit the pie.
This concept of circumstantial evidence I think is the biggest thing that confuses people when it comes to murder charges. Circumstantially, once you look at all the evidence it leads to the conclusion that a particular person or persons was involved in a murder.
Review Murder Case Strategy With Criminal Lawyer
So, if you have one of these scenarios, get to an attorney. Get to someone like me. We'll sit down and talk about it. I'll let you know how the prosecutors are going to prove the case. I mean, that's a key thing to be able to have under your hat.
I know already based on my experience once I read the whole case and talk to the defendant and talk to the prosecutor exactly how they're going to try to lay out the evidence. Once you have that, then you can start talking about how you're going to defend that attack that the prosecutors are going to make at a jury trial.
Make no mistake, it's going to be an attack. They're going to point at the defendant. They're going to say, that person is guilty. Here's why that person is guilty and you're going to have a defense attorney that's ready to stand up and say no, they're wrong. This person didn't commit the murder and here's why they didn't commit the murder.