In California homicide is the lawful or unlawful killing of another. Homicide includes murder, manslaughter, disturbing the peace as well as justifiable killings. Murder is the most aggravated kind of homicide. California Penal Code 187 defines murder as the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought.
Does not require any ill will or hatred of the particular victim. Malice aforethought can either be expressed or implied.
Requires the specific intent to kill the victim; a deliberate intention to unlawfully take away another person's life.
No considerable provocation exists, the killing shows reckless disregard for human life.
Prosecution's Burden of Proof for Murder
In order to prove murder under California PC 187, the prosecutor must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:
1) The defendant committed an act that resulted in death to another person;
2) The defendant committed the act with malice aforethought;
3) The defendant killed without lawful excuse or justification.
First Degree Murder
Under California Penal Code 187(a) there are three types of first degree murder.
1) The premeditated and deliberate killing of another person.
2) Killing with a destructive device, explosive weapon of mass destruction, ammunition, poison, by lying in wait or by inflicting torture on another person.
3) Felony Murder.
Enhancements for First Degree Murder Charges
An enhancement offense is an offense whose commission alone increases the penalties for the original crime. In California, if you are found guilty of first-degree murder and your conviction is based on a hate crime you will face a prison sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
A hate crime is any offense that interferes with someone else’s civil rights or damages or destroys their property because of a victim’s specific characteristics. California PC section 422.6 PC makes it a stand-alone crime to do any of these because of one or more of the following actual or perceived characteristics of the victim:
- Race or ethnicity
- Sexual orientation
- Association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics.
Second Degree Murder
Under California Penal Code 187(b), all murders that do not qualify as murder in the first degree are considered second degree murders. Second-degree murder is also willful but is not deliberate and premeditated. If someone is convicted of violating California Penal Code section 187 as second-degree murder, that person will face 15 years-to-life in the state prison.
Enhancements for Second Degree Murder
In California, if you are found guilty of second degree murder, you would be facing a sentence enhancement of additional time in state prison depending on the following circumstances:
- Second-degree murder sentence may increase to life without the possibility of parole if the convicted person has previously served a sentence for a murder conviction.
- Second-degree murder sentence may increase 20 years to life if the convicted person has killed the victim by shooting a firearm out of a vehicle with the intent of causing serious injury.
- Second-degree murder sentence may increase 25 years to life if the victim is a peace officer.
- Second-degree murder sentence may increase to life without the possibility of parole if the victim is a peace officer AND
- The convicted person specifically intended to kill the officer or battery on a peace officer;
- The convicted person specifically intended to inflict great bodily injury on the officer;
- The convicted person killed the officer using a deadly weapon or firearm.
In California, the felony murder rule creates murder liability for individuals or their accomplices who kill another person during the commission of a dangerous felony. Any death that is logically related to the felony will suffice, regardless of whether it was intentional, accidental, or negligent. Therefore, even unforeseeable deaths will subject someone to murder charges so long as there is more than a mere coincidence between the time and place of the murder and the underlying felony. California’s felony-murder rule applies to both first and second degree murder.
First Degree Felony Murder
Killing another person during the commission of a enumerated felony.
Example: Felony arson, burglary, kidnapping, robbery, or rape.
Second Degree Felony Murder
Killing another person during the commission of an inherently dangerous felony.
Example: Felony manufacturing a controlled substance.
Voluntary Manslaughter vs. Murder
California Penal Code section 192(a) defines voluntary manslaughter as the unlawful killing of another without malice and committed upon a sudden heat of passion. Similar to murder, under voluntary manslaughter you may have intended to kill the victim but the distinction is that there was not enough time to form malice aforethought. It is important to note that if enough time passes between the time that you are provoked and the time you kill the victim, then the killing will be considered premeditated and not eligible for a reduction to manslaughter. An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to mitigate this cooling off period and make the argument that you were in fact adequately provoked and that your act of killing the victim was an impulsive reaction to that provocation. The standard the court will use to decide whether or not the provocation was adequate, is whether or not the provocation was so influential that it would have caused an average person under the same circumstances to react similarly. If the court finds that the provocation is sufficient, you may be eligible for a reduction from a murder charge to voluntary manslaughter. If reduced from murder to voluntary manslaughter, a defendant could face up to 11 years in prison instead of a potential life sentence under a murder conviction.
Sudden Heat of Passion:
A quarrel that results in the defendant's adequate provocation, reacting impulsively by committing an act that causes the death of another person.
Prosecution's Burden of Proof for Voluntary Manslaughter
In order to prove manslaughter under California PC 192(a), the prosecutor must prove either one the following beyond a reasonable doubt:
1) The defendant committed an act that caused the death of the victim;
2) The defendant killed without lawful excuse or justification.
1) The defendant intentionally committed an act that caused the death of the victim;
2) The defendant knew that the natural consequences of the act were dangerous to human life;
3) The defendant acted with conscious disregard for human life.
Involuntary Manslaughter vs. Murder
California Penal Code 192(b) defines involuntary manslaughter as the unlawful killing of a human being without malice, that takes place during the commission of an unlawful act. Unlike murder and voluntary manslaughter, the killing under involuntary manslaughter is unintentional. Maybe the killing of the victim was the result of criminal negligence. This would mean while you were committing a lawful act that involved a high risk of death you did so without due caution. The standard the court will use to determine if your actions were criminally negligent, is whether a reasonable person would have known that your actions would create a risk of death to a human being.
The defendant acted recklessly creating a foreseeable high risk of death or great bodily injury to another.
Prosecution's Burden of Proof for Involuntary Manslaughter
In order to prove that someone has committed manslaughter under California PC 192, the prosecutor must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:
1) The defendant committed an unlawful act that does not amount to a felony;
2) The defendant committed a lawful act in an unlawful manner;
3) The defendant committed criminal negligence;
4) The defendant's act resulted in death to another person.
- Reason of Insanity:
You did not understand the nature of your action or you could not distinguish between right and wrong.
- Killing is the Result of an Accident:
You lacked criminal intent to do harm, you were not negligent, and you were otherwise engaged in a lawful activity.
- Self Defense or Defense of Others:
You had a reasonable believe of imminent danger of death or great bodily harm to yourself or another.
- Imperfect Self Defense:
You had a reasonable believe of imminent danger of death or great bodily harm to yourself or another but this believe was incorrect.