There are many different types of criminal offenses that can result in homicide charges in California, first-degree murder being the most serious. First-degree murder is any unlawful killing of another person that involves deliberation, premeditation and intent to kill, and any type of murder that doesn’t constitute first-degree murder may instead be charged as second-degree murder. A California first-degree murder conviction carries life-altering penalties and may even cost you your life, which is why you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side to fight for your rights and protect your best interests. If you or someone you love is facing criminal charges for first-degree murder in San Diego, our reputable criminal defense lawyers at Sevens Legal Criminal Lawyers can make a difference in your case. Contact our firm today to schedule a free consultation. Learn about the difference between manslaughter and homicide here.
Elements of First-Degree Murder
California Penal Code § 187 PC defines murder as the “unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought,” and there are several specific conditions under which a murder qualifies as murder in the first degree, compared to the lesser charge of murder in the second degree. According to state law, first-degree murder includes the following essential elements.
A defendant may be convicted of first-degree murder if the prosecution can show that the defendant had a specific intent to end a human life when the crime was committed. Although the prosecutor will have to show that the victim’s death was not accidental, he or she does not have to prove that the defendant intended to kill that particular person. Having plans to kill one person and then killing the wrong person or a random person can still result in first-degree murder charges.
Premeditation and Deliberation
Another important element of first-degree murder is premeditation and deliberation. In order to support a first-degree murder charge, the prosecution must show that the defendant had the conscious intent to commit the killing beforehand. This does not necessarily mean the defendant had to have contemplated the crime at length and planned it far in advance. All that is required is proof that the defendant formed the intent, pondered the crime and then acted, even if this deliberation occured in a matter of minutes. There are specific methods of killing that fall under the category of murder in the first degree in California. These methods include the use of explosive devices, bombs, armor piercing ammunition, weapons of mass destruction, and poison. A defendant may also face first-degree murder charges if he or she is accused of killing the victim by lying in wait, by using torture, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate and premeditated killing. Under California’s “felony murder” rule, a defendant can also be charged with first-degree murder for a homicide that occurs during the commission of, or attempt to commit, a dangerous felony, such as kidnapping, rape, burglary or robbery.
Under California’s first-degree murder law, the prosecution must also show that the defendant acted with “malice aforethought,” a term that refers to the mental state required for a person to be liable for murder. As it pertains to murder, malice aforethought can either be implied or express. Express malice means the defendant had a deliberate intent to kill, while implied malice means the defendant did not have a deliberate intent to kill, but rather demonstrated a conscious disregard for human life. In order to get a guilty verdict in a first-degree murder case, the prosecutor will have to provide evidence that the defendant either deliberately intended to commit < a href=“murder, behaved with extreme recklessness or acted without consideration for another person’s safety, and caused the victim’s death.
Penalties for First-Degree Murder in California
In California, first-degree murder convictions carry some of the harshest criminal penalties. A defendant convicted on charges of first-degree murder may be sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison, life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, or, in the most serious cases, capital punishment (the death penalty). State laws require a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole or death for murder cases that involve “special circumstances.” Some examples of circumstances that may elevate first-degree murder to capital murder include killing another person for financial gain, using a bomb or explosive device to kill more than one person, killing another person in order to avoid a lawful arrest, or killing a peace officer, firefighter, prosecutor, juror, judge or elected official. These cases are known as “capital murder” cases.
Building a Defense Against a First-Degree Murder Charge
Being charged with first-degree murder does not automatically mean you are guilty of the crime. On the contrary, the law states that you are innocent until proven guilty and the burden of proof in your criminal case rests with the prosecution. That means the prosecution must be able to prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt in order to get a guilty verdict. As a criminal defendant facing first-degree murder charges in the state of California, you have certain fundamental rights, including the right to an attorney, and choosing an experienced defense attorney to represent you in your criminal case is one of the best decisions you will make. A good criminal defense attorney will examine every aspect of your case and develop a sound and reasonable defense based on your specific situation. For first-degree murder charges, some possible defenses include asserting that the killing was accidental or justified, that you acted in self-defense or in defense of another person, that you suffered from insanity at the time the killing occurred, that you are a victim of mistaken identity, or that the evidence against you was obtained during an illegal search and seizure. Whichever defense strategy best suits your case, an experienced California criminal defense attorney can present a strong argument to improve your chances of securing an acquittal or having your charges reduced or dismissed.
Contact Our San Diego Criminal Defense Attorneys
If you or someone you love has been charged with first-degree murder in San Diego, it is in your best interest to contact our seasoned criminal defense attorneys at Sevens Legal Criminal Lawyers. Our knowledgeable lawyers have years of experience defending clients against first-degree murder charges and protecting their rights and freedom. Contact our firm today so we can get to work on your murder case right away.