Homicide Crimes

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California Homicide Crimes

In California, murder is the ultimate criminal act. That said, the act of unlawfully killing another person is not reduced down to a single crime. There are multiple offenses that span different parts of the California Penal Code that involve homicide crimes.

These crimes may have the same outcome, but the way an offense comes about can differ drastically. Some homicide crimes are premeditated acts while others are entirely accidental. In each of these cases, you could face a life-changing amount of time in prison upon conviction.

The factors that surround homicide crimes are often murky or complex. Often, there are important mitigating circumstances that the judge and jury should be aware of. Without the right legal counsel, you could miss out on the ability to get your side of the story out.

The Hennessy Law Group is dedicated to fighting for the constitutional rights of those accused of a crime. If you are charged with murder or another homicide crime in Kern County, do not hesitate to call us immediately.

Overview of Homicide Crimes and Penalties

While there are a variety of statutes that relate to homicide crimes, there are six types of offenses under the law. These offenses all carry different elements to prove and can lead to varying sentences upon conviction. In some cases, the penalties could be enhanced beyond the normal sentencing guidelines. The homicide offenses under California law include:

  • First-Degree Murder
  • Capital Murder
  • Second-Degree Murder
  • Voluntary Manslaughter
  • Involuntary Manslaughter
  • Vehicular Manslaughter.

First-Degree Murder

First-degree murder is governed by California Penal Code 187. In many states, first-degree murder involves a deliberate, premeditated killing. While this also qualifies as first-degree murder in California, the Penal Code includes three ways a prosecutor could obtain a conviction. The State of California will need only to prove one of the three prongs to secure a conviction at trial.

First-degree murder includes:

  1. A willful, deliberate, premeditated killing;
  2. A killing while committing a felony (known as the felony-murder rule); or
  3. Death by use of an explosive device, lying in wait, or through torture.

A conviction for first-degree murder carries with it a sentence of 25 years to life in prison. That sentence could be upgraded to life without the possibility of parole if the act was in conjunction with a hate crime. In this circumstance, a hate crime is a murder based on the victim's race, religion, gender, disability nationality, or sexual orientation.

Capital Murder

Capital murder is the most severely punished form of all homicide charges. Also known as first-degree murder with special circumstances, capital murder comes in many different forms. There are more than 20 different circumstances that could lead to a capital murder charge. Some of the most prominent examples include:

  • Murdering multiple people
  • Killing for financial gain
  • Murdering a witness in an effort to stop them from testifying
  • Murdering for the benefit of a street gang
  • Murdering a police officer, judge, prosecutor, juror, or elected official.

If convicted of capital murder, you face one of two potential sentences. The jury in a capital murder case must decide between the death penalty and life in prison without parole.

Second-Degree Murder

Second-degree murder is any murder charge that does not fit within first-degree murder. The difference between the two is that second-degree murder is not deliberate or premeditated. It is, however, willful. This means that a person that commits second-degree murder did so without the intent to kill but willfully committed the fatal act knowing the risks. An example might be unintentionally killing a person in a bar fight. If a defendant intended to punch another patron but had no intention of killing them, they could face second-degree murder charges if the blow is ultimately fatal.

The penalty for second-degree murder includes a sentencing range of 15 years to life in prison. There are also some sentence enhancements to be aware of. For example, the court may sentence a person to life without parole if the defendant has a previous murder conviction. If the murder involves the firing of a weapon out of the window of a moving vehicle, the sentencing range is 20 years to life in prison.

The killing of a peace officer also could result in an enhanced penalty. The sentencing range shifts to 25 years to life for the killing of a peace officer and life without parole when:

  • The defendant targeted the officer specifically;
  • The defendant killed the officer with a deadly weapon; or
  • The defendant intended to inflict great bodily harm to the officer.

Voluntary Manslaughter

Voluntary manslaughter involves the deliberate, willful killing of a person without premeditation. It is commonly said these acts occur “in the heat of the moment.” Incidents of road rage or infidelity could lead a person to spontaneously kill another individual. When this occurs, voluntary manslaughter is often the charge relied on by prosecutors.

Voluntary manslaughter is a felony. A conviction carries a penalty of three, six, or eleven years in prison. The default sentence is six years, but the court can select the higher or lower sentence depending on extenuating circumstances.

Vehicular Manslaughter

The offense of vehicular manslaughter involves the killing of another individual through the use of a motor vehicle. This charge is appropriate when someone is killed when:

  • A person drives in an unlawful and grossly negligent way;
  • A person drives in a lawful manner that could produce death; or
  • A person knowingly causes an accident for the purpose of financial gain.

Vehicular manslaughter is typically a misdemeanor that carries up to a year in county jail. Intoxicated drivers are usually an exception to this statute, as prosecutors often charge that crime with felony murder or gross manslaughter while intoxicated.

Involuntary Manslaughter

Involuntary manslaughter occurs when a person kills without malice or intent. However, a prosecutor must establish that the defendant acted with a conscious disregard for human life for involuntary manslaughter to apply.

The conscious disregard could involve any unlawful act other than a felony. Remember, felonies that result in the death of another person are treated as first-degree murder. Involuntary manslaughter also occurs when a lawful act involving a high risk of death or serious injury leads to a fatality.

It is important to note that voluntary manslaughter charges are not appropriate for a killing that involves the use of a motor vehicle. In that situation, vehicular manslaughter is the appropriate charge.

Upon a conviction of voluntary manslaughter, you could face a prison term of two, three, or four years.

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Common Defenses

Every crime under the California Penal Code has viable defenses that could result in an acquittal. The specific defense that might work in your case depends entirely on the facts and the specific charge you face Given that homicide crimes have different required mental states, not all defenses apply across the board. Some of the defenses that could be used in a homicide case include:

Self-Defense

Arguably the most common defense in a homicide trial is self-defense. While this defense will not apply to manslaughter charges, it could apply in murder cases. Self-defense occurs when a person kills another out of fear of serious injury or death. This defense comes in two forms. Perfect self-defense occurs when a reasonable person would have agreed that lethal force was necessary. Imperfect self-defense occurs when the defendant genuinely believed they were in danger, even though a reasonable person would have disagreed.

Mistaken Identity

Arguably the most common defense in a homicide trial is self-defense. While this defense will not apply to manslaughter charges, it could apply in murder cases. Self-defense occurs when a person kills another out of fear of serious injury or death. This defense comes in two forms. Perfect self-defense occurs when a reasonable person would have agreed that lethal force was necessary. Imperfect self-defense occurs when the defendant genuinely believed they were in danger, even though a reasonable person would have disagreed.

Duress

Duress occurs when a person is forced to kill another. Duress can involve a threat of violence against the defendant or a loved one. For example, a person held at gunpoint and ordered to kill someone else might have a duress defense.

Lack of Evidence

Ultimately, the prosecution has the burden of proving the defendant is guilty of murder. In some cases, the evidence is so weak that the prosecution is unable to make its case. In some cases, guilt cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt even when taking the state's evidence as true.

Why Hennessy Law Group

If you are under investigation or suspicion of a homicide crime, there is no need to wait for your impending arrest. The sooner you move forward with securing a defense counsel, the sooner your attorney can get to work defending you.

The Hennessy Law Group is ready to serve as your advocate during this difficult time. We have experience defending those accused of homicide crimes, and we look forward to putting that experience to work for you. To learn more about your defense options, schedule a free case evaluation with the Hennessy Law Group as soon as possible.

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