The dramatization and the interest murder cases generate are not without merit. Jealousy, rage, and revenge are part of the most cited causes that fuel perpetrators to kill. Some will use guns, cars, their bare hands, or other deadly weapons in ending the life of another. Add planning of the crime, and it becomes clear why the interest in these cases remains high. On the flip-side, alleged offenders face harsh consequences for their actions, with life imprisonment topping the list. The stakes are too high not to involve a criminal defense attorney. If you or your loved one are facing murder charges, let Chula Vista Criminal Attorney defend you.
Overview of Murder
Murder is a type of homicide penalized under PC 187. It is the killing of another or a fetus with malice aforethought.
Malice aforethought is what distinguishes murder from manslaughter, the other type of homicide. It is best described as a conscious intent (premeditation) to cause grievous bodily injury or kill another person before committing the crime. This intention is what prosecutors should prove in your case for a conviction.
Malice can be both express and implied. Express malice describes intentional killing. With implied malice, on the other hand, you only needed to act in such a manner that the consequences to the victim were either death or sufficiently dangerous to life. It is from this interpretation that three categories of murder emerge. All have particular elements prosecutors will have to prove, and a conviction will result in varying penalties.
Prosecutors seeking a first-degree murder conviction need to prove either of the following elements.
You Knowingly, Willfully, Deliberately, Or Premeditated To Kill Another
Prosecutors have to show that you knowingly and deliberately ended the life of a human being or a fetus. This principle holds even if the dead individual was not your intended victim. In proving premeditation, prosecutors must show reasonable time for you to plan before killing another person. It is also from this element that they will be required to demonstrate the motive behind your actions.
You Accomplished the Murder by Lying in Wait
It should be clear that you waited for the perfect opportunity to kill your victim or inflict the severe injury that ultimately led to the demise of another. Actions like surveilling your victim’s movements or house, waiting for the victim to show up at a specific place where you pounced or ordered others to attack the victim are enough to prove you were lying in wait.
You Ended The Life Of Another While Committing A Felony
If you attempted to commit, carried out, or participated in a felony with the ultimate goal of ending your victim’s life, you will be convicted of first-degree murder as prescribed under Senate Bill 1437. The same bill includes individuals who command, counsel, solicit, induce, request aid, or abet the commission of first-degree murder as parties who should also face first-degree murder charges. These are felony murders.
As defined earlier, felony murders are killings that occur during the commission of a felony. Prosecutors need to demonstrate that you murdered another while committing a felony or that death was the logical consequence of the felony. Therefore, accidental, negligent, or intentional deaths count. There should be no doubt that the following are true for a guilty verdict:
- You intended to commit said felony.
- You committed or attempted to carry out the felony
- A connection exists between the place and time of the killing with the felony.
The following felonies are considered under the felony murder rule.
- Mayhem — PC 203
- Torture — PC 206
- Kidnapping — PC 207
- Robbery — PC 211
- Carjacking — PC 215
- Unlawful acts of sodomy — PC 286
- Oral copulation with a minor — PC 287
- Lewd acts with a minor — PC 288
- Forcible sexual penetration with a foreign object — PC 289
- Arson — PC 451
- Burglary — PC 459
Penalties for First-Degree Murders
First-degree murder convictions attract various penalties, all dependent on the circumstance of your case. You could spend a maximum of 25 years in prison, a life sentence with a possibility of parole, or death as per Penal Code 189. However, a temporary moratorium was issued on executions on March 12, 2019, by Governor Gavin Newsom.
Offenders convicted of murder under exceptional circumstances risk facing life sentences without a possibility of parole. These circumstances include the following:
- Use of a bomb
- The murder was a felony murder
- The accused committed the crime for financial gain
Capital murders are first-degree murders with special circumstances. Twenty scenarios fit the definition. However, some of the more typical cases include:
- Gang killing
- Killing more than one victim
- Killing for financial gain
- Drive-by shooting
- Killing a witness to prevent them from testifying
- Killing a firefighter, police office, judge, prosecutor, juror, or elected officials
- Killings driven by hate crimes — These crimes involve killing another because of their race, religion, political inclination, nationality, religion, or country of origin.
Capital murders are punishable by death (capital punishment) or a life im[prisonment without the possibility of parole.
Murders in the second degree are willful, but they lack premeditation. Second-degree cases only require malice aforethought and intention to kill another as the only elements that prosecutors need to prove for a guilty verdict. Therefore, any murders other than first-degree or capital murders fall in the second-degree category.
Penalties For Second-degree Murders
Without any aggravating circumstances, a conviction will see you serve 15 years to life in prison. Penalties change depending on the aggravating circumstance in your case. Here’s a look at how aggravating factors affect your sentence.
- Offenders with prior murder sentences will serve life-without-parole
- If the victim was a peace officer, 25 years to life in prison is the penalty if convicted
- If the victim was a peace officer and the defendant intended to kill or inflict significant bodily injury to the officer, a conviction would land you in prison for life with no possibility of parole. A similar sentence is issued if you killed the officer with a deadly weapon,
- If you shot from a vehicle and intended to cause injury, you risk facing 20 years to life in prison
The felony murder rule also applies to second-degree murder charges. Any killing that results from the commission of a dangerous felony not specified as a first-degree felony murder is second-degree felony murder. Accomplices, as is the case in the first-degree felony murders, could be held liable for second-degree felony murder if their case is proven.
The list of felonies under the second-degree felony murders includes maliciously burning a vehicle, manufacturing methamphetamines, and possessing a bomb in an industrial complex.
The felony murder rule only applies if the defendant or their accomplices committed the murder. If a third party or a police officer intervenes and kills said victim, the felony murder rule does not apply. However, if the third party’s killing of another results from the reckless disregard of human life by the defendant or their accomplices, both the defendant and his/her accomplices will be liable.
Additional Penalties to a Murder Conviction
Further penalties will be imposed on defendants upon a conviction of murder. They include:
- Victim restitution
- A strike in their criminal records as per California’s Three-Strikes Law
- An additional 10, 20, or 25 years to life in prison if the defendant used a firearm
- Loss of gun rights
- Sentence enhancements if the crime was gang-related
- A fine of up to $10,000
- Registration as a sex offender if convicted of murder while attempting to commit a sex crime.
Any attempt taken to kill another but ends up failing is attempted murder. Prosecutors, as per PC 664/187, must prove particular aspects of the case.
Intent to Kill
Injuries inflicted on another, and the circumstances surrounding the crime demonstrate the defendant’s intent to kill another. Prosecutors must prove that the defendant intended to kill and not to injure the victim. For example, injuries on the upper body or vital organs indicate an attempt to fatally wound their victim, while injuries inflicted in any region of the lower body point to causing harm to the victim as the motive.
Where there are no injuries to the victim, prosecutors rely on the circumstances surrounding the case. This happens in situations where the victim was able to fend off an attack and flee.
Intent to kill extends to individuals who were not the primary targets but ended up as victims of the crime.
Made a Direct Step
Putting a plan in motion to kill another and taking direct action to actualize it is critical in proving the direct step. Planning involves:
- How to carry out the murder
- Buying a weapon
- Where and when it will be carried out
- Who the intended victim is, and
- The steps to be taken after the murder
The above activities are not enough to prove your guilt in the crime. That is why a conviction relies on direct action. Direct action refers to the events that actualize the murder plans. Examples include paying the hitman, stabbing the victim in the chest, or firing a gun at the victim.
Penalties For Attempted Murder
Attempted murder is a felony, and the penalties vary depending on the charges. Attempted murder convictions are penalized in two ways, first and second-degree attempted murder, similar to murder cases.
A first-degree attempted murder charge means that you willfully, deliberately, and with premeditation tried to kill another. You will face a life sentence with a possibility of parole. If the victim was an on-duty firefighter, police officer, or any protected individual, you would serve a minimum of 15 years before you are eligible for parole.
Any unsuccessful murders that were not deliberate or premeditated are second-degree attempted murder cases. Defendants convicted of the crime are penalized by 5, 7, or 9 years in prison.
Both first and second degree attempted murder convictions carry additional penalties, including:
- Deportation for non-citizens
- Victim restitution
- A strike in your criminal record
- A fine of no more than $10,000
- Loss of gun rights
- An additional 15 years to life in prison if the attempted murder was in furtherance of gang activity
- 10-20-life sentences if you used a gun — Judges rely on PC 12022.53 on issuing additional penalties to gun use in attempted murder cases. The judge will add ten years to your prison sentence if you used a gun, 20 years for firing a firearm, and 25 years to life for causing significant bodily injury to another while using a firearm.
DUI Murder/Watson Murder
Prosecutors pursue Watson murder charges when a defendant with a prior DUI conviction kills another while driving under the influence. DUI murder is another phrase used to refer to Watson Murder.
The landmark case of The People Vs. Watson set the Watson murder principles. The judge held that driving under the influence could constitute malice, a key element in a second-degree conviction.
Therefore, prosecutors need to demonstrate a defendant’s guilt by proving the following elements:
- The defendant intentionally drove under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- The probable or natural consequence of drunk driving was endangering human life
- The defendant knowingly disregarded the danger through their actions
Intent to kill is not necessary in Watson murder cases. Thus, prosecutors rely on implied malice to prove their case. Implied malice requires exceptional knowledge of the risks of impaired driving, and in proving that implied malice is a consideration in your case, prosecutors will show that you:
- Read or signed a Watson admonition in your prior DUI matter — Convicted DUI offenders receive a Watson advisement during their sentencing. The judge reads out the admonition, and the defendant signs the form. It acknowledges that the defendant understands driving under the influence impairs their ability to safely operate a vehicle, thus endangering human life.
Should you continue driving under the influence and kill another, you will face murder charges.
- Attended a court-mandated DUI program for your prior DUI offense — The DUI school must be court-approved. The prosecutors will then introduce the school’s learning material, warning you against driving under the influence.
- Had special knowledge of the risks of driving under the influence — Prosecutors will introduce this element if the defendant is a police officer, paramedic, or an official with first-hand information of the risks and the consequences driving under the influence causes.
Penalties of a DUI Murder/Watson Murder Conviction
A conviction will land you in prison. You will be required to serve 15 years to life. Additionally, you will have to part with a maximum of $10,000 in fines, and a strike will be noted in your criminal record.
If some people survived the crash but with injuries, an additional 3 to 6 years prison sentence for each victim suffering from a significant bodily injury will be included in your sentence. A further one-year prison sentence will be added for each survivor suffering from minor injury with a 3-year maximum. You will serve all sentences consecutively.
Manslaughter is the other category of homicide closely related to murder. Manslaughter is often used interchangeably with murder. However, prosecutors introduce manslaughter changes when they have insufficient evidence to pursue any of the five murder charges detailed above.
The differentiating elements between murder and manslaughter are the intent to kill or seriously harm another and malice aforethought. Each of the following manslaughter categories details malice aforethought and intent.
In other cases, you may kill another person as a consequence of an emotional outburst or while defending yourself or another. If this is the case, you will face voluntary manslaughter charges. Penal Code 192a defines the crime as the unlawful killing of another following a quarrel, heat of passion, or based on the assumption or unreasonable belief in the need to defend yourself.
From 192a’s definition, prosecutors must demonstrate that the defendant was provoked. The provocation then caused a sudden emotional surge, thus clouding the defendant’s objective assessment of the situation. It is then that the defendant acted, thus killing their victim. In addressing the emotional state, prosecutors will analyze the time between the provocation and the killing. Of importance is the cooling-off time. If you had enough time to cool off before striking and killing your victim, murder charges would be preferred.
Therefore, voluntary manslaughter is murder without premeditation or malice. As such, prosecutors almost never pursue voluntary manslaughter as an original charge but as a compromise in plea bargain negotiations. All you have to do is accept killing your victim, and thereafter, you will avoid murder charges and instead be convicted for voluntary manslaughter.
Penalties Issued Against a Voluntary Manslaughter Conviction
Voluntary manslaughter is a felony, and as a lesser crime to murder, the penalties are less severe. Once convicted, you will:
- Serve a 3, 6, or 11 years in prison
- Be required to part with a maximum of $10,000 in fines
- Earn a strike in your criminal record following California’s Three-Strike Law
- Lose your gun rights pursuant to PC 29800
- Be required to attend and complete anger management sessions
- Take part in community services as guided by the courts
Unintentionally killing another person while committing a crime, not inherently a dangerous felony or committing a lawful act, but it results in the death of another is involuntary manslaughter, a crime under PC 192b. This crime too lacks malice aforethought and premeditation, key elements in murder cases.
PC 192b requires proving certain elements for a conviction. Prosecutors must prove:
- You committed an infraction, a misdemeanor, or a crime not inherently a dangerous felony, or you carried out lawful actions in an unlawful manner. Lawful activities done unlawfully simply refer to legal acts done negligently (without reasonable care or caution).
- You committed the crime or action with criminal negligence — Criminal negligence is more than a typical mistake of judgment, carelessness, or inattention. The acts considered under this element are those that result in a high risk of death or significant bodily injury. Further, a reasonable person would have known that acting in such a manner could have created the risk involved.
- Your actions caused the death of another — The death of another is a direct, probable, and natural consequence of your actions. Therefore, without your actions, death would not have occurred.
Legal Duty of Care and Involuntary Manslaughter
In some instances, the death of another can occur when there was a legal duty of care expected in a defendant’s actions. If so, the elements to be proven in your case differ slightly from the ones detailed above. Prosecutors must demonstrate that:
- You owed the victim a legal duty of care
- You failed to extend the duty of care owed to the victim
- Your failure amounts to criminal negligence, and
- Failure to exercise the duty of care resulted in the victim’s demise
Relationships between lovers, cohabitants or spouses, parent-children relationships, or relationships between paid caretakers and the care recipients are examples where legal care is extended.
Penalties for PC 192b Convicted Offenders
Involuntary manslaughter is a felony punishable through formal probation instead of prison. Additionally, you will be required to part with a maximum of $10,000 in fines. However, the judge may prefer a prison sentence over probation. In this case, you could spend 2, 3, or 4 years in prison. Further, since the crime is a strikeable offense, a strike will be noted in your criminal record.
Contact an Experienced Chula Vista Criminal Attorney Near Me
Murder convictions result in hefty penalties, top among them, life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Fortunately, with the right criminal defense attorney, you can fight the charges with ideal defense strategies. Having the right attorney is vital because, through their representation, you can have your charges reduced or dismissed. Make the right call and contact the Chula Vista Criminal Attorney today at 619-877-6894. We will evaluate your case and devise the proper defense strategy to fight the charges.