The facts underlying a murder charge drive the prosecutor’s case, and California maintains strict penalties for people convicted of murder. If you or someone close to you is facing criminal charges for murder, The Law Office of Gregory H.Comings may be able to help. San Bernardino and Riverside County homicide lawyer Gregory H. Comings brings extensive experience to his diligent representation of clients facing serious criminal charges such as murder, manslaughter, and assault. Attorney Comings is knowledgeable about procedural and substantive aspects of the legal system, and is prepared to answer your questions regarding your criminal proceeding.
According to California Penal Code section 187(a), murder is the illegal killing of a person, with malice aforethought. Malice is a state of mind reflecting an intention to kill. Either express or implied malice can satisfy this element of the crime. Express malice includes a deliberate intention to commit murder. Implied malice may be reflected in an “abandoned and malignant heart,” and demonstrated when a defendant acts without care for a person’s safety. Malice does not necessarily require ill will or hatred toward the victim.
The degrees of murder, first and second, refer to the circumstances surrounding the crime and to the different punishments that apply. A conviction of first degree murder may include 25 years to life in state prison. A second degree murder charge may carry 15 years to life in state prison. Second degree murder is also willful, but not deliberate and premeditated.
The prosecution bears the burden of establishing all elements of a murder charge. To prove the crime of murder, the prosecution must show the defendant killed another person with specific intent. The killing requires malice aforethought, and without lawful excuse or justification. In comparison, the lesser crime of manslaughter is the killing of another individual in the heat of passion, or based on an honest but unreasonable belief in the need to self-defend.
First degree murder requires willfulness, deliberation, and premeditation by the defendant. To show willfulness, the prosecution must show that the defendant acted with an intent to kill. However, this intent to kill does not need to be focused on the particular victim who died. Shooting into a crowded party with the intent to kill one person, but instead killing another, may support charges for first degree murder. Premeditation and planning must be demonstrated by the prosecution through specific evidence. Time is not necessarily an indication of premeditation, and the jury or judge will assess the circumstances of the case.
In addition to a murder that is willful, deliberate, and premeditated, the State of California may charge first degree murder when a killing was accomplished with a weapon of mass destruction, torture, poison, or destructive device. When a murder is committed during the commission of certain serious felony crimes, the California felony murder rule may elevate the crime to first degree murder. Current law maintains that this rule only applies when the defendant was the actual killer, with intent to kill, or was a major participant in the underlying felony and acted with reckless indifference to human life.
According to laws that govern self defense, if an individual kills because they were defending themselves or another person, they may be excused from murder charges. The defendant must have held a reasonable belief that they or another person were in imminent danger of being killed, suffering great bodily injury, or being raped, maimed, or the victim of a forcible crime. This threat must have been one that would place a reasonable person in fear of great bodily harm or death.
California law also maintains an “imperfect self defense,” which includes an honest but unreasonable belief in imminent danger. An imperfect self defense may reduce a murder charge to voluntary manslaughter.
An accident, or a death that was caused by someone with no criminal intent to do harm, not acting negligently, and otherwise engaged in lawful activity, may serve as a valid defense. Because the prosecution must prove the killing was premeditated for first degree murder charges, if a defendant can show that a killing was accidental, the murder charge may be reduced, or dropped. Additionally, insanity may be an appropriate defense if the insanity test requirements are met, and the defendant was unable to understand the nature of the act.
A procedural or evidentiary error by prosecution or law enforcement may result in a strong defense to a murder charge. For example, a confession obtained illegally, through coercive tactics, will not be admitted into evidence because it violates the defendant's legal rights. Evidence used to convict the defendant must have been obtained in a lawful manner. Further, if law enforcement failed to secure a search warrant, items seized in an illegal search may be inadmissible.
At The Law Office of Gregory H.Comings, clients receive personal and efficient legal representation. Throughout Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, Attorney Comings assists those accused of crimes, including violent crimes as well as theft and domestic violence. Our office represents clients throughout Palm Desert, Indio, Palm Springs, Highland, Redlands, Fonatano, Moreno Valley, Rancho Cucamonga, and Temecula. To learn more, call our office at (951) 686-3457 or complete our online form.