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What Are the Different Defenses for Murder in California?

On Behalf of | Oct 25, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Of the many crimes covered in California’s Penal Code, the most serious involve the loss of human life. With hefty sentences and expected felony charges, facing murder allegations can be life-altering, so a carefully prepared defense is crucial. The options for murder defense vary significantly according to the specifics of a given case.

What Is Homicide?

Homicide is the intentional or unintentional act of aiding and abetting in another person’s death, regardless of motive. The California Penal Code clearly distinguishes between murder and homicide depending on intent. In any homicide-related charge, the question of intent is pivotal to the preparation of an effective defense.

How Does Malice Affect Homicide Cases?

A claim of malice may be deemed either express or implied.  Express malice is a term used to describe a specific plan, either oral or written, to kill someone that eventually results in a homicidal deed. Implied malice indicates a knowing disregard for human life. Deaths resulting from drunk driving accidents, where those involved know that their acts may harm others, are some of the most frequent instances of implied malice.

What Are Defense Positions Used for Murder Defense?

Being accused of murder in California is a serious charge with the potential to change the trajectory of a person’s life. Although murder allegations are always serious, there are some solid legal defenses that a skilled criminal defense attorney in California can put forth to clarify the facts of the case and increase the chances of a favorable outcome. The following four defenses to murder can and frequently do result in dismissal or acquittal of murder charges, even if there is a confession.

  • Self-Defense: A person has the right under California’s self-defense statutes to protect their own or another’s life if there is a good faith belief that someone is at risk of being killed, suffering serious physical harm, being sexually assaulted, maimed, robbed, or the victim of another forcible and heinous crime. In such a case, if someone felt that the use of deadly force was necessary to defend against an immediate danger and did not use more force than was reasonable and necessary to do so, it may be deemed a “justifiable homicide.” This person would not be charged with murder under California Penal Code Section 197.
  • Accidental Death: Accidents do occur. If the person arrested engaged in a lawful activity at the time of the killing, had no malicious intent to harm anyone, and was not acting negligently when the deceased was killed, then the accident qualifies as an “excusable homicide” under California Penal Code Section 195.
  • Temporary Insanity: A murder suspect may enter a “not guilty by reason of insanity” plea. According to California’s insanity plea rules, a person is deemed criminally insane if they were either unable to understand the nature of their actions or couldn’t tell the difference between right and wrong at the time of the incident. Without substantial evidence backing these claims, temporary insanity is difficult to prove and usually requires an expert’s assessment; for example, an outside psychiatric evaluation is necessary for this defense to stick.
  • Coerced Confessions: Police at times employ coercive methods to get false confessions in order to close cases or apprehend certain suspects. A defense attorney for the accused may make a motion to remove the confession from evidence in circumstances of coerced and false confessions. This can seriously undermine or even discredit the prosecution’s case, and any testimony given to corroborate that false testimony can be stricken as well.

Murder accusations may seem like a certain conviction leading to a lengthy sentence. However, with the right defense, presentation of evidence, and legal team, these convictions can be reevaluated and a well-crafted defense put forth.

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Homicide Defense

Q: What law punishes the crime of homicide?

A: The California Penal Code clearly distinguishes between murder and homicide based on the intent and motive behind the action. For instance, California Penal Code Section 187 defines murder as the willful death of a person for an unlawful purpose, but Section 192 distinguishes between murder and manslaughter based on intent, with manslaughter lacking the intent to cause death.

Q: How many years do you get for attempted murder in California?

A: According to California’s Penal Code 664/187(a) PC, attempted murder occurs when a culprit directly moves toward the victim with the intent to kill but fails to do so. First-degree attempted murder carries a life sentence in state prison. A penalty of five, seven, or nine years in state prison is imposed for attempted second-degree murder.

Q: How many years do you get for manslaughter in California?

A: Compared to murder, which carries a potential life sentence in prison, sanctions for voluntary manslaughter are substantially less harsh. Voluntary manslaughter in California is a felony punishable by three, six, or eleven years in state prison. If, however, this manslaughter charge is a third strike under California’s Three Strikes Law, then the defendant could be facing 25 years to life in state prison if convicted.

Q: What is a 187 case?

A: The term 187 comes from California Penal Code section 187, which defines murder legally. The unlawful killing of a person or a fetus with malice aforethought is defined as murder in this penal code. This indicates that the defendant usually has no regard for human life or had the criminal intent to kill.

Optimal Defense for Criminal Cases

Building a strong defense for any murder accusation is the main goal of criminal defense cases and is crucial for a fair trial. Exploring and understanding any possible defense routes can put any case into perspective, providing the information needed to consider both sides of the case. At Exum Law Offices, we will work with you to ensure you receive the legal services needed to fully review your case and present all possible defense options. For more information, visit our website and contact us today. We look forward to hearing about your needs and how we can assist you.