Understanding a California murder charge PC 187(a) and how to fight your charges in court
Being charged with murder PC 187(a) in California can have life-changing consequences for you and your loved ones. Unfortunately, many defendants will have no choice but to accept a court appointed criminal defense attorney, also known as a public defender.
When your future and liberty are at stake, hiring your own California criminal defense attorney has many advantages. California criminal defense attorneys are not free but the benefits of a competent criminal defense in court are priceless. Learn more about the difference of having your own criminal defense lawyer VS a public defender.
Understanding a murder PC 187(a) charge in California
PC 187(a): Murder is defined as the unlawful killing with malice and without the legal justification of another human being.
PC 664/187(a): Attempted murder is described as taking an ineffective but significant step towards killing another individual with the specific intention of killing that individual.
According to the above definitions, even if the defendant did not specifically intend to kill another person, the crime of murder may be charged. Still, the crime of attempted murder requires the defendant to intend to kill another person.
The definition of murder is short, but it takes a deeper understanding of the definition to comprehend the law of murder. Below is a review of the various terms in the definition of murder and attempted murder), including the often misunderstood concept of malice's forethought. Moreover, you will find an explanation of the differences between the degrees of murder, such as first-degree murder versus second-degree murder. Punishment is also included, as are common defenses against murder and attempted murder.
PC 187(a) Conditions
The term unlawful killing means that some killings, such as killings punishable by the State of California for death penalty crimes or taking someone off life support, are lawful.
Another human being implies that where animals are killed or where a person commits suicide, murder is not found. Another human being is considered to be killing a fetus. A fetus is defined by medical terms and in the last trimester of pregnancy, generally means an unborn person.
The term without legal justification in PC 187(a) implies that some killings are not considered murder because there is legal justification, such as self-defense killings.
The term malice aforethought in the definition of murder is the most commonly misunderstood term, and it implies that the defendant committed the killing while the defendant was in a particular mental state of mind. There are four different kinds of mental conditions that make up the preconception of malice. Only one of the mental states below needed to discover that the defendant acted with malice's forethought (PC 187(a)).
Intent to kill: The first way to show the forethought of malice is with the specific intention of killing. Intent to kill implies that the defendant intended to kill another individual.
Circumstantial evidence Used to Prove Intent: The prosecutor will often rely on circumstantial evidence to prove the defendant's intention to murder the victim if the defendant does not confess that he or she intended to kill another person. For example, shooting a person in the head at point-blank range would be good proof, even without the defendant's confession, that the defendant intended to kill the victim.
Transferred Intent: When the defendant intends to kill another person but kills a person other than the one the defendant intended to kill, the intention of the defendant to kill will be transferred to the actual victim from the intended victim. For example, if the defendant intended to kill his wife by shooting her, but the defendant killed another person when the defendant shot at his wife, then the intent to kill his wife will be transferred to the actual victim. This is true even if the defendant never intended to kill the other individual in reality.
Intent to commit significant bodily injury (GBI): The second way to demonstrate malice prediction under PC 187(a) is for the prosecutor to show that the defendant intended to seriously injure another person and that the injury resulted in the death of the other person.
For instance: If the defendant intended to stab another person (i.e., attempt to commit GBI) without intending to kill the other person, but the other person died as a result of the stab wound, then the intention of the defendant to commit significant bodily injury will serve as the forethought of malice.
Reckless Endangerment (Malignant Heart): The third way to demonstrate the idea of malice is to act with reckless indifference to human life. Under PC 187(a), the defendant will be charged with Malignant Heart Murder (PC 187(a)) if the accused commits some act that is subjectively reckless, extremely dangerous, and indifferent to human life, and another person dies as a result of that reckless behavior.
For instance, if the defendant shoots bullets in the air in a busy town and someone dies from one of the falling bullets, due to the extreme reckless nature of his or her behavior, the defendant will likely be charged with murder under the malignant heart murder rule. Another typical instance would be the defendant driving on the freeway with extreme recklessness that leads to death.
Inherently Dangerous Felony Murder: The fourth way to show the forethought of malice under PC 187(a) is for the prosecutor to prove that the victim's death occurred during the commission of an inherently dangerous felony by the defendant during the defendant's commission. This is also known as the Rule for Felony Murder. Felonies that are so dangerous to human life are inherently dangerous felonies that the probability of death during the offense's commission is very high. Residential burglary, robbery, rape, abduction, torture, chaos, carjacking, arson, police evasion, hostage-taking, and more are inherently dangerous felonies.
If the defendant steals a liquor store and the store clerk dies during the robbery from a heart attack, then the defendant will probably be charged with murder because the robbery caused the death, and the robbery crime is considered an inherently dangerous felony (PC 187(a)).
Temporary Place of Safety: Where the killing happens in the course or commission of an inherently dangerous felony, the felony murder rule is used. Therefore if the felony commission is completed and the defendant has reached a temporary place of safety, then any killing that occurs after that point is not part of the inherently dangerous felony or in the course of it. This is referred as the doctrine of the temporary place of safety (PC 187(a)).
Note: malice prediction is not found under PC 187(a), where an officer accidentally kills another human being while pursuing the defendant. For instance, if the defendant flees from the police and the police shoot the defendant, but the police kill an innocent bystander accidentally. The defendant will not be charged with murder.
Degrees of Murder In California
Murder of the first degree: According to PC 187(a), the murder of the first degree is a premeditated and deliberate murder or murder committed during the commission of an inherently dangerous felony.
Premeditation and deliberation: premeditation and deliberation, in simple terms, means that the defendant intended to kill another person and that he or she had time to consider the wrongfulness of his or her actions before the defendant intended to kill another person and spent time considering the idea. Within a few seconds, the formation of premeditation and deliberation of intent can occur.
Second Degree Homicide: Murder in the second degree is murder, which is not murder in the first degree. The definition in the law under PC 1877 is as stupid as this definition sounds (a). It merely means that if the murder is not considered first-degree murder under the above description, then the murder is deemed to be second-degree murder by default.
Examples of second-degree murder include murder by way of intent to cause significant bodily injury, murder by drunk driving after a previous drunk driving conviction, AKA "Watson Murder" (see below and Reckless Endangerment Murder Murder (see below) (aka Malignant Heart Murder).
Note: Second degree Watson Murder (DUI Murder) A murder that occurred due to the defendant driving while intoxicated (DUI) was charged as a vehicular homicide once upon a time. Even if the defendant has a prior DUI conviction on his or her criminal record, this is true. Today, if a defendant drives and kills another human being while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and the defendant has a prior DUI conviction. The criminal charge is usually second-degree murder.
Murder in Special Circumstances: Murder in Special Circumstances is a murder committed under a particular circumstance. Examples include multiple murders (the murder of more than one person), the murder of uniformed officers, death-related torture, bomb murder, rape-related deaths, and more.
In California, most murders that are accompanied by special conditions are subject to the death penalty. Penal code 190.2(a)(1) to 190.2(a) The list of exceptional circumstances can be found in penal code 1902(a)(1) (22).
Murder Attempt PC 664/1877
Under the penal code 664/187, Attempted Murder is charged. The District Attorney needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant made a significant step towards the act of killing another person while at the same time intending to kill that other person to be found guilty of attempted assassination under PC 664/187(a). Conduct that goes beyond the mere preparation of the crime is a significant step.
For example: If a defendant stabs another person with the intention of killing, but the person stabbed lives, then under PC 664/187(a), the defendant should be charged with attempted murder because stabbing another person would be considered a significant step towards killing another person, and the defendant had the necessary intent to kill.
The sentence for Attempted Murder: If found guilty under PC 664/187(a) of attempted murder, the defendant can go to prison for life where the district attorney proves premeditation. The defendant may face up to nine (9) years in prison if premeditation (planning) is not proven.
Punishment for First Degree Murder: Under California PC 187(a), the sentence for first-degree murder is either probation or twenty-five years to life. Only in very unusual cases is probation (no jail sentence) granted. This implies that in a first-degree murder case, the defendant is not eligible for parole until twenty-five years have passed (no time off for good behavior).
Note: According to California's Three Strikes Law, killing is considered a strike offense. Murder of the first degree is also considered a crime of moral turpitude, which means that a murder conviction will have serious negative consequences for professional licenses and immigration issues.
Punishment for Second Degree Murder: The penalty for a second-degree murder conviction under PC 187(a) is either probation or fifteen years in prison for life.
Murder: Murder with exceptional circumstances under PC 187(a) & 190.2 is either a life in prison without parole sentence (LWOP) or a death sentence. Whether or not the accused is sentenced to death is a jury-made determination.
Murder Defense in California
Self Defense (the right to use deadly force to repel an attacker using deadly force against the defendant), insufficient evidence, an error of fact, insanity, illegal search and seizure of evidence, intoxication, defense of others, and more are common defenses for murder and attempted murder.
Without a doubt, you need a criminal defense attorney who will spend the time and effort planning and executing your defense to minimize the consequences of a murder charge. If you cannot afford to pay for a criminal defense attorney, you must consult with a public defender.
However, if you are able to cover your defense costs, start by getting an unbiased lawyer referral to a pre-screened criminal defense attorney. Pre-screened attorneys are vetted for experience, ethics, credentials, performance and fair legal fees.
How Do I Request An Unbiased Referral To A Pre-Screened, Ethical Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney?
You can submit a request online 24 hours a day. Free case review within 15 minutes.
By chat, you'll be connected with a California criminal defense lawyer within 5 minutes.
By calling the 24-hour lawyer referral hotline at 1-661-310-7999