Murder is a type of homicide, which is legally defined as the deliberate killing of another human being. The State of California maintains strong penalties for murder crimes, which can be charged by the prosecutor as first or second degree murder. People convicted of murder face severe consequences, including life imprisonment without possibility of parole, 20 to 25 years in state prison, or the death penalty. Complex murder cases and other forms of homicide require a skilled legal defense. San Bernardino and Riverside County homicide lawyer Gregory H. Comings aggressively protects the rights of those accused of murder. Based on a relationship of trust and communication, Mr. Comings seeks to build strong defenses behalf of his clients. In some circumstances, dismissal or acquittal of the charges may be possible. If you or a loved one is facing criminal investigation or formal accusations involving murder, assault, or another violent crime, Attorney Comings, along with the team at the Law Offices of Gregory H. Comings, is prepared to mount a defense on your behalf.Elements of a Murder Charge According to California Law
As the most serious form of homicide, the crime of murder is set forth in California Penal Code section 187. Murder is the intentional killing of another human being with malice aforethought and without lawful excuse or justification. Intent to kill or cause bodily injury, or acting with a wanton disregard for life qualifies as malice aforethought. Unlike manslaughter which is another form of homicide, murder is distinguished by the presence of a specific mental state, malice.
Murder is charged by the State of California as either first or second degree. First degree murder may be appropriate when a destructive device such as poison or torture was used to commit the crime, or when a murder was committed in a willful, premeditated manner. Especially heinous crimes that involve deliberation, premeditation, and planning are typically charged as first degree murder. When a murder occurs during the commission of a felony, the California felony murder rule may apply, and may render the crime a first-degree murder. Finally, first-degree murder with “special circumstances” is the highest level of homicide under California law.
Second-degree murder also requires malice and intentionality, but it is not deliberate and premeditated. This type of murder includes all murders that are not first-degree and also includes the felony-murder rule. Examples include the use of a deadly weapon in a fight, or swinging a bat and accidentally hitting and killing a victim.Penalties for a Murder Conviction According to California Law
Punishment for first-degree murder may include twenty five years to life in prison. When someone is convicted of first-degree murder with special circumstances, or “capital murder,” the penalties include death, or life in prison without possibility of parole. Currently, California has suspended capital punishment. Second-degree murder penalties include 15 years to life in prison.
Additional penalties may be imposed upon a convicted defendant facing first or second degree murder charges. For example, when a firearm was used in the commission of the crime, up to 25 years can be added to a prison sentence. If the offense is gang-related, there are specific sentencing enhancements that may apply.Legal Defenses that May Apply in a California Murder Case
Justification of a killing may excuse murder charges, or reduce the severity of punishment. As a strong defense to murder charges, California’s self-defense laws may fully excuse the defendant’s conduct. For this type of defense to apply, there must have been a reasonable belief that you or another individual were in imminent danger of death or great bodily injury, or a forcible crime. An “imperfect self defense” argument may be appropriate when the defendant held an honest but unreasonable belief in the need to use deadly force. A successful imperfect self defense may reduce murder charges to voluntary manslaughter charges.
Other legal defenses include accident and insanity. If the killing was an accident, and the defendant did not hold a criminal intent to harm and was not acting in a negligent manner at the time of the death, they may have a valid legal defense to the murder charge. The insanity defense may also apply if the defendant can prove, under the specifics set forth in an insanity test, that they did not understand the nature of the act or that they cannot distinguish between right and wrong.
Procedural and evidentiary protections may afford the defendant additional defenses. If an illegal and coercive interrogation took place, the court must exclude the defendant’s confession from evidence. A skilled defense lawyer will assess the interrogation methods used by law enforcement and potentially assert an appropriate defense. Additionally, evidence obtained unlawfully violates the defendant’s Fourth Amendment right to freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. Evidence obtained in this manner may be excluded from trial.
Finally, because first degree murder is a specific crime, if the state fails to prove each element of the crime, the charge cannot stand, although it may be reduced to second degree murder or manslaughter. For all murder crimes, the prosecution is required to prove that there was a killing of another person, with specific intent. An accidental killing will not constitute murder. However, manslaughter, according to California Penal Code section 192, is a lesser offense to murder and is committed when an individual kills another during a quarrel, in the heat of passion, or based on an honest but unreasonable belief in the need to self-defend.Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer in San Bernardino or Riverside County
The serious nature of a murder charge requires an effective criminal defense in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. At the Law Offices of Gregory H. Comings, Attorney Comings relies on his trial experience and focused criminal defense practice to protect your legal rights. By contacting our office, you are taking the first step toward understanding the legal options available to you. Legal representation by Attorney Comings extends to clients throughout Palm Springs, Temecula, Moreno Valley, Palm Desert, Highland, Indio, Fonatana, Redlands, San Bernardino, and Rancho Cucamonga. Our office can be reached by calling (951) 686-3457 or online.