A person accused of unlawfully killing another person with malice aforethought (a specific state of mind, either express or implied) can be charged with murder under California law, and the state of California recognizes two specific categories of murder: murder in the second degree, and the more serious crime of murder in the first degree. Murder is one of the most serious criminal offenses you can be charged with, and even a second-degree murder conviction carries a minimum sentence of 15 years in state prison up to potential life imprisonment.
If you or someone you love is facing second-degree murder charges in San Diego, do not hesitate to seek qualified legal representation. Our criminal defense attorneys at Sevens Legal, APC have dedicated their careers to protecting the rights of those accused of the most severe criminal offenses and we can help you build a strong defense in your murder case.
What is Second-Degree Murder?
Under California law, murder can be charged as first degree murder
or second degree, depending on the circumstances of the killing, and in order to understand second-degree murder charges, you must first understand first-degree murder charges. According to California Penal Code § 189(a) PC, first-degree murder charges may arise when the homicide
is “perpetrated by means of a destructive device or explosive, a weapon of mass destruction, knowing use of ammunition designed primarily to penetrate metal or armor, poison, lying in wait, torture, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing, or that is committed in the perpetration of, or attempt to perpetrate, arson, rape, carjacking, robbery, burglary, mayhem, kidnapping, train wrecking,” or any other dangerous felony. First-degree murder also includes any homicide “perpetrated by means of discharging a firearm from a motor vehicle, intentionally at another person outside of the vehicle with the intent to inflict death.” All other kinds of murder that do not constitute first-degree murder fall under second-degree murder laws in California.
There is a special murder rule in California called the “Watson” murder rule, also known as DUI murder. In certain cases, if you operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and another person is killed as a result of your conduct, you can be charged with second-degree murder under PC § 187. Watson murders are almost always based on a second-degree, implied malice theory, in which case the prosecution will try to prove that you intentionally committed a dangerous act that resulted in the death of another person. If you have a prior DUI conviction, the prosecution can use this as evidence to show that you knew the act of driving under the influence was dangerous and deliberately acted with conscious disregard for human life.
Penalties for a Second-Degree Murder Conviction
According to PC § 190, any person found guilty of murder in the second degree faces a potential penalty of imprisonment in California state prison for a term of 15 years to life. There are certain aggravating factors that can increase the punishment for a second-degree murder conviction in San Diego. For instance, if the murder was carried out by means of shooting a firearm from a vehicle at a person outside of the vehicle with the intention of causing bodily injury or death, the prison term may increase to 20 years to life. If the victim was a peace officer and he or she was killed “while engaged in the performance of his or her duties,” and the defendant knew or should have known that the victim was a peace officer engaged in the performance of his or her duties, the prison term for second-degree murder may increase to 25 years to life.
If the defendant specifically intended to kill the peace officer, or if the defendant used a firearm or a dangerous or deadly weapon in committing the alleged crime, he or she may face a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
When it comes to handing down a punishment for second-degree murder in California, the court may also consider whether the defendant has a prior criminal record. If the defendant in a second-degree murder case has previously served time in prison for murder, the possible sentence for a subsequent conviction may range from 15 years to life in state prison to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Building a Defense Against Second-Degree Murder Charges
Facing murder charges in California
can be terrifying, but it is important to remember that the prosecution can only get a guilty verdict in a criminal case if they can prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. To convict you of murder, the prosecution must be able to prove the following elements:
• You caused the death of another person,
• You acted with malice aforethought, and
• You committed the homicide without lawful excuse or justification.
There is one important element that sets first-degree murder apart from second-degree murder and that is premeditation or deliberation. In order for first-degree murder charges to apply, the prosecution must show that the defendant deliberately planned the killing or, more specifically, formed the intent, pondered the crime and then acted, even if that process takes place in a matter of minutes. Without the requisite element of premeditation or deliberation, the prosecution may instead pursue a charge of second-degree murder.
Defense Strategies for Second-Degree Murder Cases
Second-degree murder is a serious criminal charge that carries severe penalties, and if you are facing murder charges in California, you do not want to leave the outcome of your case in the hands of an inexperienced attorney. A good criminal defense lawyer will have the experience and knowledge needed to come up with the best possible defense strategy based on the specific facts of your case. Some possible defense strategies that may be used in a second-degree murder case include the following:
• Justified killing
• Accidental killing
• Self-defense or in defense of another person
• Illegal search and seizure
• Provocation or heat of passion killing
• Mistaken identity
Contact Our San Diego Criminal Defense Team Today
If you have been arrested on charges of second-degree murder in California, do not wait to contact our criminal defense team. With a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney fighting for your rights, you can significantly improve your chances of securing an acquittal or getting the second-degree murder charges dropped or reduced to a lesser offense. For instance, a seasoned criminal defense attorney may be able to show that the killing in question was carried out during a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion and therefore amounts to a lesser form of homicide, in which case the murder charges may be reduced to manslaughter, a crime carrying a much less severe punishment. Whatever the circumstances of your criminal case, we can help. Contact Sevens Legal, APC today for a free initial consultation.