What is Homicide?
Homicide is the killing of one human being by another. Murder and Manslaughter are types of homicide. Manslaughter is a lesser offense to murder. A Homicide can be lawful or unlawful. If a person kills with a legally valid excuse or justification, the killing is lawful and he/she has not committed a crime. If there is no legally valid excuse or justification, the killing is unlawful, and depending on the circumstances, the person is guilty of either Murder or Manslaughter.
How can we help someone charged with Murder? First and most importantly, can the prosecutor prove beyond a reasonable doubt whether the defendant was the killer? Second, is this really a case of Murder or is this is a case of Manslaughter? This is important to establish because Murder carries a mandatory life sentence, and Manslaughter carries a much lesser sentence. Third, was there a justification for the killing?
If it is a Murder, is it in the first degree or in the second degree?
First Degree Murder
The defendant is guilty of first-degree murder if the prosecutor proves that he/she acted willfully, deliberately, and with premeditation. The defendant acted willfully if he/she intended to kill. The defendant acted deliberately if he/she carefully weighed the considerations for and against his/her choice and, knowing the consequences, decided to kill. The defendant acted with premeditation if he/she decided to kill before completing the act[s] that caused death. The sentence for first-degree Murder, without special circumstances or enhancements, is 25 years to life.
Second Degree Murder
On the other hand, if the defendant intended to kill but acted without premeditation or deliberation, then the crime is Murder in the second degree. The sentence for second-degree Murder, without any enhancement, is 15 years to life.
Voluntary Manslaughter: Heat of Passion
A killing that would otherwise be a Murder is reduced to voluntary manslaughter if the defendant killed someone because of a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion. For example:
- The defendant was provoked;
- As a result of the provocation, the defendant acted rashly and under the influence of intense emotion that obscured (his/her) reasoning or judgment; AND
- The provocation would have caused a person of average disposition to act rashly and without due deliberation, that is, from passion rather than from judgment. Penal Code §192(a)
A killing in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony; or in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection. This subdivision shall not apply to acts committed in the driving of a vehicle. Penal Code §192
The prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant is guilty of Murder. Typically, they need evidence of means, opportunity and motive. Can they prove the ability (means) of the defendant to commit the crime? Can they prove whether or not the defendant had the chance (opportunity) to commit the crime? Can they prove the reason (motive) the defendant committed the crime?
Can they place you at the murder scene? They may try to establish this by eyewitness testimony, video surveillance, fingerprints, DNA, or cell phone evidence. The law does not require them to establish a motive for the killing. However, motive can establish or fail to establish a reason for the killing. Was there a business dispute? Was the victim threatened by the defendant? Are rival gangs involved? Were they involved in a personal relationship? Was there jealousy? Does the defendant benefit from the victim’s death?
Each Murder case is unique. We have successfully defended clients charged with Murder. Defending a murder case requires experience and an eye for detail. Expect a murder case to go to trial. From the time we are retained, we prepare the case for trial. We utilize independent private investigators and experts to help build our defense to your particular case.
Was the killing lawful? There are defenses to a lawful killing, including self-defense, the defense of property or home, or an accident.
A defendant is not guilty of Murder or Manslaughter/attempted Murder/attempted voluntary Manslaughter if he/she was justified in killing/attempting to kill someone in self-defense or defense of another. For example:
- The defendant reasonably believed that he/she or someone else was in imminent danger of being killed or suffering great bodily injury or was in imminent danger of being victimized or a forcible and atrocious crime, such as rape, mayhem, robbery.
- The defendant reasonably believed that the immediate use of deadly force was necessary to defend against that danger; AND
- The defendant used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that danger.
Defending against harm within Property or Home:
The defendant is not guilty of Murder or Manslaughter/attempted Murder/or attempted voluntary Manslaughter if he/she killed/attempted to kill to defend himself/herself) or any other person in the defendant’s home. Such a/an attempted killing is justified, and therefore is not unlawful.
The defendant is not guilty of Murder/or Manslaughter if he/she killed someone as a result of accident or misfortune. Such a killing is excused, and therefore not unlawful, if:
- The defendant was doing a lawful act in a lawful way;
- The defendant was acting with usual and ordinary caution; AND
- The defendant was acting without any unlawful intent.