Homicide Laws and Defenses in California

Answers from a Los Angeles Homicide Defense Attorney

Do you need a homicide defense attorney? Defending against criminal charges requires planning and strategy. Developing a strong defense strategy early on can mean the difference between freedom and life in prison.

If you or someone that you love are facing homicide charges, we can help you. Call us at (213) 377-6102 for a free case evaluation. One of our Los Angeles homicide attorneys will discuss the case and possible strategies to get the best possible result.

Types of Homicide Charges and Penalties

The term “homicide” is the killing of another person. In California, there are two types of homicide charges: murder and manslaughter.

A person accused of committing homicide faces serious penalties, up to and including life in prison in the case of murder.

Murder Charges

There are three main types of murder charges in California: First Degree Murder, Second Degree Murder, and Capital Murder.

First Degree Murder (Penal Code Section 187(a))

There are three main types of murder charges in California: First Degree Murder, Second Degree Murder, and Capital Murder.

Second Degree Murder (Penal Code Section 187(a)).

Second Degree Murder under PC 187(a) is an intentional killing with malice and without premeditation. Malice means an intent to hurt the other person or endanger their life. The penalty for Second Degree Murder is 15 years to life in state prison.

Capital Murder (Penal Code Section 190.2(a)(1)-(22) and Penal Code Section 190.25)

Capital Murder under PC 190.2(a) and PC 190.25 is a first degree murder that occurred under “special circumstances.” There are over 25 types of “special circumstances” that would make a murder “capital murder.” Some common examples include murder for financial gain, murder of a public servant, and murder to benefit a gang. The penalty for Capital Murder ranges from life in prison without parole to capital punishment.

Manslaughter Charges

There are three main types of manslaughter in California: Voluntary Manslaughter, Involuntary Manslaughter, and Vehicular Manslaughter.

Voluntary Manslaughter (Penal Code Section 192(a))

Voluntary Manslaughter under PC 192 is a deliberate killing without premeditation. The penalty for Voluntary Manslaughter is 3 to 11 years in state prison.

Involuntary Manslaughter (Penal Code Section 192(b))

Involuntary Manslaughter under PC 192(b) is an unintentional killing with conscious disregard for human life. The penalty for Involuntary Manslaughter is 2 to 4 years in state prison.

Vehicular Manslaughter (Penal Code Section 192(c))

Vehicular Manslaughter under PC 192(c) is a killing while driving. This offense can be charged either as a felony or a misdemeanor. The penalty for Vehicular Manslaughter depends upon the circumstances of the killing and the case overall.

Legal Defenses Frequently Used by Los Angeles Homicide Attorneys

Every case is different. A skilled Los Angeles homicide defense attorney will examine each case and all possible defenses.

Many times, the police will make an arrest first and ask questions later. The best homicide defense attorneys first look at what police found. Second, they look at what the police missed.

Below are some of the most common defenses to Murder and Manslaughter frequently used by Los Angeles homicide attorneys. This is not an exhaustive list!

Defense of Self or Another

Self Defense.

If the accused acted in self-defense, they are not guilty of murder or manslaughter. There are three requirements for Self Defense. First, they reasonably believed that they were in immediate danger of harm. Second, they reasonably believed that they had to use force to defend themselves. Third, the accused used only the amount of force necessary to defend themselves.

Defense of Another Person.

If the accused was defending someone else, they are not guilty of murder of manslaughter. There are three requirements for Defense of Another. First, the accused reasonably believed that the person they were defending was in immediate danger of harm. Second, the accused reasonably believed that they had to use force to protect the person they were defending. Third, the accused only used the amount of force necessary to protect the person they were defending from harm.

Imperfect Self-Defense.

The defense of Imperfect Self Defense can reduce a Murder charge to Voluntary Manslaughter. Imperfect Self Defense applies when the accused had an honest but unreasonable belief that they needed to use force to defend themselves. This defense is frequently used by Los Angeles homicide attorneys as a “backup” for Self Defense.

Heat of Passion

The Heat of Passion Defense can reduce a Murder charge to Voluntary Manslaughter. Heat of Passion applies when the accused was provoked, acted rashly, and the provocation would have caused the average person to act rashly. A classic example of sufficient provocation is someone catching their spouse in the act of cheating.

Accident

Both murder and manslaughter each have some component of “intent” in them. The minimum level of intent for any homicide crime in California is “acting with conscious disregard for human life.” If the death was a pure accident, the accused is not guilty.

Mistaken Identity

Mistaken Identity can be used when the prosecution lacks solid evidence that the accused is the person who committed the killing. Even when an eyewitness tries their best to point out the correct person, they can be wrong. If the lineup was done improperly, your Los Angeles homicide defense attorney can file a motion to get the identification thrown out. Without corroborating evidence like DNA, a confession, or video evidence, identity can be challenged.

Defense Strategies Used by Los Angeles Homicide Attorneys

Someone accused of a homicide charge needs to utilize the correct tactical defense strategies. Every case is different, but the typical steps to get the best possible outcome are outlined below.

Evaluate All the Evidence

A skilled homicide defense attorney will first evaluate what evidence the police actually have and how they got it. What can the prosecution prove? Can they prove that it is our client? What evidence shows that it wasn’t self-defense?

File Motions to Throw Out Illegally Obtained Evidence

A good Los Angeles homicide defense attorney will file motions to throw out any illegally obtained evidence. For example, if our client confessed but was never read their rights, we would file a motion to throw out the illegal confession. This step can significantly weaken the prosecution’s case.

Investigate and Obtain Experts

In Los Angeles, private homicide defense attorneys can frequently get private investigators and experts appointed at no cost to you. Some examples of experts are mental health experts, ballistics experts, and identification experts. These experts are invaluable in defending criminal cases.

How We Can Help

If you or a loved one has been charged with a homicide offense, we can help you. Call us at (213) 377-6102 for a free consulation about your case.