Murder is the intentional killing of a human being without legal justification or excuse. The California Murder Laws are defined by the Penal Code section 187 – 199.
Depending on the facts of the case, the authorities may charge the death with (among other things):
- First-degree murder,
- second-degree murder,
- capital murder,
- voluntary manslaughter,
- involuntary manslaughter, or
- vehicular manslaughter, are all possible charges.
If you or someone you know has been charged with any of the crimes listed above, it is critical that you contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. A conviction in any of these can change your life and, in some cases, cost you your life.
California Murder Laws & Penalties
First-degree murder can be:
- willful, deliberate, and premeditated;
- by using a destructive device or explosive, ammunition designed primarily to penetrate armor, poison, lying in wait, and torture; or
- felony-murder. It is only necessary to have the specific intent to commit a specific felony.
Here are a few simple examples of first-degree murder:
After being fired at work, John drives across town and murders his boss later that afternoon.
Jack purchases Teflon-coated bullets labeled “cop killer.” A stranger approaches him while he is sitting in his car. He panics and uses the armor-piercing round to kill the stranger.
First-degree murder Sentencing and Penalties
A first-degree murder conviction carries a sentence of up to 25 years in state prison. If the murder is determined to be a hate crime — one motivated by the victim’s religion, race, gender, disability, or sexual orientation — the defendant faces life in prison without the possibility of parole. This means that the person will be imprisoned for the rest of their lives, with no chance of release.
Second-degree murder is defined as the willful killing of another person that is not deliberate or premeditated. In other words, an intentional act that was not preplanned.
It encompasses a wide range of different types of murder. There are three basic types:
- premeditated and deliberate murder,
- dangerous act malice murder,
- dangerous felony-murder, or potentially operating a motor vehicle, boat, or aircraft while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Second-degree murder Sentencing and Penalties
A conviction for second-degree murder carries a sentence of 15 years to life in prison, with the possibility of sentence reductions based on:
- If the person charged with the crime has a previous criminal record.
- If the killing was committed by firing a firearm from a car (a “drive-by shooting”).
- If the victim was a law enforcement officer.
California Capital Murder
Capital Murder is “murder with special circumstances.”
There are approximately 20 scenarios in which a person could be charged with capital murder; however, the most common are:
- murder for financial gain,
- murder of a public servant,
- murder in a hate crime,
- murdering a witness to prevent them from testifying,
- and murder to benefit a street gang.
Capital Murder Punishment Sentencing & Punishment
In California, the penalty for capital murder can be life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty. A murder conviction under special circumstances carries the possibility of life in prison without the possibility of parole, as well as the death penalty. California has carried out lethal injection executions at San Quentin Prison, but only 13 times since the death penalty was reinstated by California voters in 1972.
California Voluntary Manslaughter
Voluntary manslaughter refers to a situation in which a person’s death is willful and deliberate, but not premeditated. Killings committed “in the heat of the moment” are examples of this type of case.
Voluntary Manslaughter Sentencing in California
In California, a conviction for voluntary manslaughter can result in an 11-year prison sentence.
Involuntary Manslaughter in California
Involuntary manslaughter is defined as the intentional killing of another person without malice or intent to kill, but rather with a conscious disregard for human life. According to California law, this is:
- A death that occurs during the commission of a non-felony unlawful act; or
- A legal act that carries a high risk of death or bodily harm and the defendant fails to act with caution.
Involuntary Manslaughter Sentencing in California
In California, the penalty for involuntary manslaughter is up to four years in prison.
The killing of another person while driving is referred to as vehicular manslaughter, in the process of:
- An illegal (but non-criminal) maneuver;
- A legal act that puts one’s life in danger; or
- knowingly causing an accident for financial gain.
California Vehicular Manslaughter Sentencing
Depending on the facts and circumstances of the case, vehicular manslaughter can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. Felony charges are punishable by up to ten years in prison, while misdemeanor charges are punishable by up to a year in state jail.
What Are Some Possible Defenses to Murder Charges?
Each of the above-mentioned charges is particularly complicated, with decades of case law determining what can disqualify a murder case or get the charges reduced.
There are numerous defenses to murder, such as self-defense or defense of another, that can result in an acquittal or a not-guilty verdict. There are also some “imperfect” defenses that can reduce a murder charge to manslaughter.
Working with an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can help you navigate the criminal justice system and obtain a more favorable verdict if you have been charged with murder, from capital murder to involuntary manslaughter.
Disclaimer: Every effort was made at the time of publication to ensure the accuracy of this publication. Individual circumstances will vary, and the law may have changed since publication, thus it is not intended to provide legal advice or imply a certain outcome. Readers considering legal action should seek legal advice from an experienced attorney to learn about current laws and how they can affect their case.