California Murder Laws | Penal Code 187 PC

December 18, 2017

In California, murder is the unlawful killing of another with malice aforethought. Murder is charged under Penal Code 187(a) pc and it can be argued under different theories.[1] For instance, the prosecution may charge someone with murder as a co-conspirator, aider and abettor, or as the direct principal. If the prosecution seeks to later argue for first-degree murder, then the prosecution must allege a special allegation that the murder was carried out with premeditation and deliberation or was the product within the commission of an inherently danger felony. The generic rule however, if that all murder is murder of the second-degree unless it’s proven that the defendant committed first-degree murder.

Not every attorney has experienced in defending against murder charges. The Law Offices of John D. Rogers has tried and argued murder cases in both Los Angeles and Newport Beach to jury verdict. When someone is accused or is under investigation for murder, it is imperative to speak with Murder Defense Lawyer in Newport Beach as soon as possible. Not only will our office thwart the investigation by avoiding our clients to implicate themselves, but we will address the investigation by conducting our own at the investigations beginning stages.

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Overview of California Murder Charges

  • Premeditation & Deliberation: The prosecution will seek first-degree murder if the evidence supports that the defendant harbored the intent to kill and committed an act while reflecting upon their intent. In other words, a person had the intentions to kill with a calculated mindset. The time span to reflect upon the intent to kill however can be very brief – e.g., a split second. Typical examples of murder by premeditation and deliberation are poisoning someone, detonating a bomb, or orchestrating a plan to kill someone with a group of people.
  • Inherently Dangerous Felony: Another theory the prosecution may argue for first-degree murder is if the defendant killed someone while in the commission, or attempt, of an inherently dangerous felony. Typical examples of an inherently dangerous felony include rape, sodomy, robbery, mayhem, burglary, arson, and kidnapping. The killing of another while in the commission of an inherently dangerous felony, whether intentional or accidental, will result in murder charges.
  • Intent to Cause Great Bodily Harm: The prosecution may elect to argue second-degree murder under an implied malice theory. Moreover, if a defendant harbored the intentions to commit great bodily harm, and as a result, a person is killed, the defendant will face second-degree murder charges. There is no requirement that a person harbor the intentions to kill another under this theory of murder. For instance, a person dying as a result of shock after being struck with a baseball bat multiple times in the back will result in murder charges.
  • Conscious & Willful Disregard: If a defendant’s conduct was egregious beyond criminal negligence, then the law may recognize that death resulted from implied malice – another theory of murder. Conscious disregard is a form of behavior that is far beyond ordinary or gross negligence. For example, driving 100 miles per hour in a school zone while intoxicated and failing stop at a cross-walk and striking and killing a pedestrian. In this case, the prosecution will argue for second-degree murder since the defendant harbored a “don’t care” attitude in a very sensitive area.

Defenses to Murder PC 187(A)

  • Alibi: Asserting an alibi defense requires sufficient and delicate notice to the prosecution. An alibi defense explains that the defendant was somewhere else while the murder was committed. An alibi defense can be proven by eye-witnesses, video surveillance, credit card or purchase receipts, and even cellular phone records.
  • Self-Defense: Self-defense is a form of excusable homicide where a person harbors the intent to kill or harm the decedent, but acts in self-defense or in the defense of another. Asserting a self-defense claim requires a person to reasonably believe that great bodily harm or death was apparent. There is no requirement that a person run away and the law permits a person to stand their ground and defend themselves against immediate unlawful injury.
  • Imperfect Self-Defense: Imperfect self-defense mitigates murder to voluntary manslaughter when a person unreasonably believes great bodily harm was to occur and/or that it was immediate. The law will not punish someone who has a mistaken and unreasonable belief that deadly force was necessary to prevent unjustified harm against oneself or another. This is not a complete defense but is limited to mitigating the murder down to voluntary manslaughter.
  • Heat of Passion: Heat of passion is a theory used to mitigate murder to voluntary manslaughter when a defendant acts after being reasonably provoked. It is a theory used to negate the premeditation and deliberation requirement for first-degree murder in that the defendant acted suddenly without the calculated mindset to kill.
  • Intoxication: There are two forms of intoxication: voluntary intoxication and involuntary intoxication. Voluntary intoxication occurs when someone deliberately ingests a stimulus. It will not excuse a homicide but rather allow the defense lawyer to argue for the lesser offense – e.g., voluntary manslaughter. This is because the defendant may have been so intoxicated that he or she may not have formulated the intent to kill. On the other hand, involuntary intoxication can be used as a complete defense in that a person may not have known what they were doing as a result of being drugged or forced to consume a stimulus.
  • Lack of Intent: As noted above, first-degree murder requires that a defendant harbor the intent to kill. However, there are circumstances that a defendant may use means to scare or intimate the decedent. For instance, pointing a gun at someone for 10 seconds, gun is deflected, and the firearm discharges. The 10 second time frame arguably evidences that a defendant had not intentions of killing but rather to intimate or scare the decedent.
  • Mistaken Identification: Scientific evidence is a growing method of proving murder cases – e.g., finger prints, ballistics, or DNA. However, many cases are built upon eye-witness testimony alone, evidence that has been proven to be unreliable. There are several factors used to question the reliability of eye-witness testimony such as the stress of the event, poor lighting, and cross-racial identification.

Contact Us to Schedule a Free Consultation

If you are under investigation for murder, (PC 187(a)) then you need to contact an experienced lawyer immediately. Contact the Law Offices of John D. Rogers to speak with an experienced Newport Beach Criminal Defense Attorney. Call us today to schedule a free confidential consultation.

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Legal References:

[1] Penal Code 187(a) – (“Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.”)

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