Ventura Murder Defense Attorneys
Murder is the most serious criminal charge that a person can face. Depending on the circumstances, you may be sentenced to life in prison if proven guilty. Since murder cases are prosecuted with the highest level of attention to detail and legal expertise, it is imperative that you retain the services of an equally skilled criminal defense team. If you have been accused of murder, the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth may be able to help you seek acquittal.
Choosing a solid criminal defense team for your murder case is possibly the biggest decision of your life. Our English- and Spanish-speaking Ventura murder defense attorneys can help. Call (805) 643-5555 today to schedule a free, confidential legal consultation with our attorneys.
Elements of a Murder Charge in California
The precise illegal act involved in a murder is defined simply as an “unlawful killing” under California Penal Code § 187. In nearly any case without self-defense, killing another person will be unlawful, so this part of the definition is broad. To prevent murder charges any time someone dies, the law requires the prosecutors to prove the actor’s mental state and intent to kill. Under CA law, this is called “malice aforethought.” “Malice aforethought” can come in two different types under Penal Code § 188: “express” or “implied” malice.
Express malice is “deliberate intention to unlawfully take away the life,” meaning that the killing was both intentional and deliberate. In these cases, the prosecution must prove that the defendant acted with the express intent of killing someone else. Contrary to popular belief, there is no explicit requirement to prove things like “premeditation.”
Implied malice is when there is no reason to kill another person or when the actor is shown to have “an abandoned and malignant heart.” The law presumes that someone would not kill another person unless they had malice and really meant to kill someone else, they were provoked into killing someone in the heat of passion, or the killing was an accident. If you are accused of killing someone without any provocation or clear manifestation of malice, the law assumes that killing someone randomly or dispassionately still has malice behind it. Many times, this kind of killing is known as a “depraved heart murder.”
This definition of murder stands in contrast to the definition of manslaughter, which includes adequate “provocation,” something that made you angry or pushed you to kill. This kind of emotion reduces the calculated intent to kill and is a clear contrast to the cold, emotionless killing that implied malice refers to.
Degrees of Murder and Penalties for Murder in California
Most people are familiar with murder having different “degrees,” but they might not understand exactly what those degrees mean. In California, a murder is either a first or second degree murder. The primary difference between first and second degree murder is the potential penalties associated with each:
- First degree murder can be punished by at least 25 years in prison with the potential for life without parole or the death penalty.
- Second degree murder can be punished by at least 15 years in prison, at least 25 years if the victim was a police officer, or potentially up to life without parole.
There are different conditions that must be met for murder to qualify as first degree murder. Note that the crime is already considered “murder” if it meets the definition discussed above – whether the murder is classified as first or second degree murder simply sorts out which penalties are available.
First Degree Murder
Penal Code § 189(a) defines first degree murder as any murder offense that involves one of the following circumstances:
- Use of a “destructive device or explosive”
- Use of a weapon of mass destruction
- Use of armor-piercing bullets (a.k.a., AP rounds or “cop killers”)
- Use of poison
- Any murder where the actor was “lying in wait”
- Murder through torture
- Any killing that is “willful, deliberate, and premeditated”
- Any killing accomplished during a completed or attempted “arson, rape, carjacking, robbery, burglary, mayhem, kidnapping, train wrecking,” or certain other offenses
- Any killing while firing a weapon from a car (i.e., a “drive-by” shooting)
Many of these circumstances target murders that have more clear “premeditation,” though premeditation is not a required element of the offense to prove the crime was murder. Additionally, many of these elements target the kinds of killings traditionally committed by gangs and criminal groups, especially killings that occur during other crimes, drive-by shootings, and killings using armor piercing rounds.
Second Degree Murder
Murder will be charged as a second degree crime if it does not fit into any of the first degree categories. Under Penal Code § 189(b), “[a]ll other kinds of murders are” second degree murder. This does not include other types of killing or homicide, such as manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter, or negligent killings, which have different penalties.
Contact Our Ventura, CA Murder Defense Attorneys Today
While a public defender’s services may sometimes be free, these lawyers are often overworked and are rarely personally invested in their clients’ cases. At the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth, we are fully prepared to spend the time it takes to build a strong defense case for you aimed at reducing your sentence and possibly having your murder charges dropped or reduced to manslaughter. With constant communication, empathy, and superb legal knowledge, we are prepared to stand by your side throughout this difficult time and give you a hard-hitting defense. To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with our Ventura murder defense attorneys, contact our law offices today at (805) 643-5555.