Intent Necessary for Murder – Malice of Forethought vs Pre-Meditation
When you start thinking about murder cases and their defense one of the first things you have to consider is this whole issue of intent. In other words, if one person kills another person, he prosecutors have to prove that (1) that person intended to kill the other person; (2) there weren't any defenses available like self-defense or defense of others, and there wasn't any justification for the killing, but they also have to consider whether the person harbored malice of forethought and/or whether they had premeditation and deliberation.
Planning to Kill Another Person
This whole concept of premeditation and deliberation as it relates to a murder case in one of the Los Angeles courts has to do with someone actually planning to kill another person. That's where the life part comes in for murder and that's one of the things that an attorney in a jury trial where the client is charged with murder and premeditation and deliberation, the attorney has at least two arguments to make.
(1) whether or not the person committed the murder and had the intent to commit the Penal Code 187 murder; and (2) whether the person planned or premeditated and deliberated about committing the murder because that premeditation and deliberation is an extra enhancement that the prosecutors can add on a murder charge.
Also, person who is defending somebody in a murder trial is going to want to look at whether the person was really intending to kill the other party or whether or not there might be some justification for the killing.
Sometimes somebody's not intending to kill anybody and a sudden quarrel occurs. Maybe they find their significant other is cheating with another person and they become very angry and enraged very quickly and act on that anger and end up killing the other person.
That could be a murder case, but it also could be a voluntary manslaughter case. If there's heat of passion there and the person was provoked and there's legally adequate provocation — now we're starting to get into some legal terms that would have to be defined.
Mitigate Murder Down to Involuntary Manslaughter
There's jury instructions for that — the person might be able to mitigate the case down to involuntary manslaughter which would be a lot different than a murder charge and it doesn't have as much negative ramifications to somebody convicted of involuntary manslaughter versus murder.
So, when you're talking about intent for a case where somebody is charged with first or second degree murder, you're really looking at what that person was thinking — what the scenario was — why they became involved in the killing. You're not really talking anymore about whether or not they did it.
That's another defense in a murder cases, which is, I'm not the one who killed the person. I don't know who did it or somebody else did it, but I didn't have anything to do with it.
We're now talking about the person admitting — because of the evidence usually — that they're the one that killed the other party but had a reason for it that is justifiable. There is such a thing as justifiable homicide.
In other words, yes I killed the person, but I did so under circumstances that are lawful, and therefore, it's not a murder. The connotation of murder has to do with somebody kills somebody in an unlawful manner.
Homicide on the other hand — especially if it's justifiable homicide — has to do when somebody dies and it's nobody's fault or it's the person's who died fault, because they're the one that attacked the other party.
So, one of the first things when defending a murder case, you've got to look at the intent of the individual or individuals involved. You obviously have to look at the surrounding circumstances and how the person ended up dying related to your particular client and then you also have to look at whether or not there's any defenses.
Defenses in a murder case could be self-defense. They can be that the party that died was doing something that triggered their own death. Maybe they had a weapon and they were committing a serious or horrible felony and the person that killed them was trying to prevent them or stop them from committing the felony or maybe it's a law enforcement officer and they're trying to stop the person from escaping after committing a horrible felony.
Reviewing the Intent for Murder
So, the first thing you want to do is look for intent for murder and I think the next thing you want to do is look at the scenario — the surrounding circumstances or totality of everything and then you can really get down to the nitty gritty about whether or not the person is guilty of the murder, whether they have a complete defense to the murder charge or maybe it should be some lesser charge like voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter.
These cases spin on their on facts. That's why it's so critical if you or a loved one is charged with the highest crime known to man — murder in Los Angeles — you've got to get a criminal defense attorney who has handled these cases; who's been in the court where your case is pending.
I've been doing this for twenty-five years and I can tell you that most of the murder charges that I see are filed in downtown Los Angeles. However, that doesn't necessarily hold true every time. In other words, where they charge a murder case is going to be in the jurisdiction typically where the murder happened unless there's something special about a particular murder.
Maybe it's a media case or some sort of a serial murder. Then they might prosecute it downtown where the District Attorney's Office of Los Angeles have their main hub office. So, if you have one of these cases, pick up the phone, make the call and get the case moving in the right direction.