The unlawful killing of another person is known as homicide and could attract murder or manslaughter charges. This article will discuss everything you need to understand about murder charges under Penal Code 187 (PC). Indeed, being under arrest or charged as a culprit in a murder case can be an emotional and stressful experience, but it is not the end of the road for you.
Like any other offense, you are innocent until the prosecutor obtains a conviction against you at trial. With a seasoned and aggressive defense attorney, you could challenge the prosecutor's evidence against you to secure a favorable outcome or dismissal of the charge.
At Desert Defense Lawyers, we can help you understand your legal rights during these challenging times and build defenses to help you obtain the most desirable outcome. If you have a pending murder charge or are under investigation as a suspect in a murder case in Palm Desert, you can count on us for quick and aggressive legal representation.
Legal Definition of Murder Offense Under PC 187
PC 187 defines the crime of murder as the illegal killing of a fetus or another person with malice aforethought. According to this statute, you act with "malice aforethought" when you do an act or behave in a way that you are aware could likely cause the death of another person.
Whether the prosecutor files your case as first-degree or second-degree murder, he/she must prove that you had implied or express malice aforethought to secure a conviction against you. Express malice aforethought means you had the criminal intent to kill the person, but the malice is "implied" if any of the following is true:
- The killing was accidental.
- Your acts or behavior posed a risk to the safety or life of other people.
- You were aware your acts were dangerous to the safety and life of other people, and you consciously acted with disregard for human life.
Regardless of the facts of your case, a murder charge could significantly affect your freedom and reputation. Working with a reliable defense attorney through every stage of the prosecution process, from the investigation to the trial, is the key to securing the best possible outcome.
Types of Murder Charges that You Ought to Know
Generally, depending on the facts and circumstances of your case, the prosecutor could file any of the following types of murder charges against you:
First-degree murder is any premeditated killing of another person or fetus that occurs with malice aforethought or deliberate planning. Examples of acts that could attract first-degree murder charges include:
- Entering your neighbor's house with the criminal intent to kill him/her.
- Waiting for a person to show up and then stabbing him/her to death.
First-degree murder also includes any killings committed:
- During the commission of terrorism.
- Through torture, which is illegal under PC 206, or by lying in wait.
- By using destructive weapons of mass destruction or an explosive device.
- Through felony murder, where a person dies while committing another felony, like robbery or arson.
According to PC 187, second-degree murder is also deliberate and willful, but there is no aforethought or premeditation. Simply put, second-degree murder is any murder case that does not qualify as first-degree murder. Examples of acts that could attract second-degree murder charges include:
- Killing another person while drunk driving and you have a past DUI (driving under the influence) offense on your record.
- Viciously punching a drunk person, causing him/her to fall and suffer a deadly injury.
- Firing your gun in a crowded room and killing a person accidentally (negligent discharge of a firearm, which is illegal under PC 246.3).
Any murder with special circumstances is known as capital murder. Several circumstances could attract capital murder charges, but some of the most common ones include:
- Killing a public servant.
- Killing another person for financial gain.
- Killing an eyewitness to prevent him/her from testifying against you.
- Killing another person to benefit from a street-related gang activity.
If you are guilty of capital murder, your sentence could include life imprisonment without the possibility of probation or the death penalty.
Elements the Prosecutor Must Prove to Secure a Conviction Against for Murder
If it is impossible to resolve your case through pretrial negotiations, your murder case will proceed to the trial phase. The burden of proof during this phase of the legal justice system lies on the prosecutor presiding over your case.
To secure a murder conviction against you under PC 187, the prosecutor must prove the following three distinct facts, also known as "elements of the crime," to the jury or the judge presiding over your case:
- Your actions or conduct led to the death of another person.
- You had no valid justification or excuse for your conduct or actions.
- Your mental intent at the time of the offense qualifies as "malice aforethought," as described in the previous paragraph.
If the prosecutor cannot prove these crucial elements under PC 187, the court will let you go free or reduce your murder charge to a less severe offense like involuntary manslaughter.
Sentencing Hearing and Potential Penalties for a Murder Conviction Under PC 187
Upon a PC 187 violation conviction, the judge will schedule your case for a sentencing hearing, which should occur within twenty (20) days after receiving a verdict on your case. However, the court could decide to extend this duration under certain circumstances. For instance, if the judge needs a recommendation from the probation officer to craft your sentence, he/she could extend this duration.
During the sentencing hearing, the judge will allow the prosecutor and your attorney to express their opinions on what they believe would be a fair sentence for your conviction. Although your attorney has no right to confront any eyewitness during this hearing, he/she can raise mitigating arguments and evidence to convince the jury that you deserve the least severe penalties for your offense.
Generally speaking, the penalties you will receive for a murder charge conviction will depend on the type of murder case. As explained above, there are three types of murder charges, and they all carry different penalties upon conviction, as described below:
If the prosecutor files your case as first-degree murder, your sentence upon conviction could include up to twenty-five (25) years of life behind bars. If it was a hate crime that led to the death of the person, your sentence could be LWOP (life without the possibility of probation). Hate crime murder is any murder that occurs due to a person's or victim's:
- Skin color.
- Sexual orientation.
A second-degree murder charge conviction carries up to fifteen (15) years of life behind bars, but some aggravating circumstances could make this penalty harsher. These circumstances include (but are not limited to) the following:
- You fired a gun from your vehicle, and you had the intent to cause an injury to the victim (the dead person).
- The victim is a firefighter, peace officer, judge, prosecutor, or an eyewitness.
- You have a past murder conviction record.
- You committed the murder offense while attempting or committing certain felonies, including robbery, kidnapping, or rape.
- The murder case involved multiple victims.
In the above circumstances, a second-degree murder charge conviction could attract twenty-five (25) to LWOP.
Capital murder is the most severe type of murder charge. If you are guilty of capital murder, your sentence will include:
- Death penalty through an intravenous injection or lethal gas.
Other Potential Additional Consequences of a PC 187 Violation Conviction
In addition to the above legal penalties, a PC 187 violation conviction will attract other negative consequences, including:
- A fine of up to $10,000.
- A strike under the three strikes law means subsequent felony convictions will attract harsher penalties.
- Victim restitution.
- Loss of your gun rights since it is illegal for felons to carry a firearm under PC 29800.
- Firearm sentencing enhancements if you used a gun to commit the offense.
Also, if the murder offense occurred while committing or attempting to commit any of the following sex crimes, you must register as a sex offender upon a PC 187 violation conviction:
- Lewd acts with a minor under 14.
- Forcible sexual penetration with an object.
- Oral copulation with a minor.
To avoid the detrimental consequences of a PC 187 violation conviction and a permanent criminal record that can affect your reputation, you should do your best to challenge the prosecutor’s evidence against you.
Defenses Your Attorney Could Use to Challenge a Murder Charge
Since every murder case is different, your attorney must investigate your unique charge keenly to craft defenses that will work to your advantage to obtain a desirable outcome. Explained below are the common and viable defenses most defense attorneys will apply to challenge a murder charge under PC 187:
The Incident Was Accidental
The jury could accept the killing was accidental if your attorney can prove the following facts beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You had no malicious intent to inflict an injury on the victim.
- Your actions or conduct was not illegal at the time of the offense.
- You were not behaving negligently at the time of the killing.
Simply put, arguing that the killing was accidental is a viable defense for a PC 187 charge. Some of the evidence your defense attorney will use to support this defense argument includes:
- Surveillance videos.
- Eyewitnesses testimonies or statements about the incidents.
Coerced or Forced Confessions
During an interrogation or questioning, the police must respect your constitutional and Miranda rights. If the police or the prosecutor obtained any evidence against you through any of the following coercive methods, the judge could drop or reduce your murder charges to a lighter offense:
- Making credible threats against your safety or your family's safety.
- Offering lenient or fair treatment in exchange for an honest confession.
- Threatening you with the death penalty.
In most cases, the jurors will agree to exclude the coerced confession from the prosecutor's evidence against you, meaning he/she cannot rely on that particular evidence to secure a PC 187 violation conviction against you.
You are a Victim of Unlawful Search and Seizure
Although the court allows warrantless searches of murder culprits' vehicles and properties, there are restrictions or limits to this under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. According to this amendment, every person has a legal right to stay free from unlawful or unreasonable searches.
If the police crossed this line to obtain illegal evidence against you, your attorney can petition the court to exclude this evidence from the prosecutor's evidence against you. Your defense attorney can do this by filing a motion to suppress under PC 1538.5.
If the court grants this request and suppresses the illegally obtained evidence, the prosecutor cannot use it against you at trial, making his/her case weak enough to secure a conviction against you under PC 187. In that case, the court could dismiss or reduce your murder charges to a less severe crime.
You Were Acting in Self-Defense
A claim of self-defense is a viable defense for murder charges. A self-defense argument could work in your favor to obtain the best possible outcome on your murder charges if your attorney can argue that you had a reasonable belief that you or someone you love was in imminent danger of:
- Suffering a severe bodily injury.
- Being killed.
- Being maimed, raped, or robbed.
You Were Insane at the Time of the Offense
Arguing that you were insane at the time of the killing is a reasonable defense for murder charges. The Na’naughten test or rule is the legal standard for insanity. Under this test, your defense attorney must prove that the reason you killed the victim was only because of the following:
- You did not understand or comprehend the nature of your conduct, which was dangerous to human life.
- You could not differentiate between wrong and right.
With the help of a skilled attorney, this defense argument could convince the jury to drop your murder charges.
You are a Victim of Mistaken Identity
Murder is undoubtedly a crime ripe for mistaken identity issues. As one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions, this defense could work to your advantage to secure a favorable outcome. Mistaken identity issues in murder cases could occur in various ways.
One example is flawed eyewitness identification, which can occur when an eyewitness picks you as the culprit out of a photo lineup because you have the same height and skin color as the actual suspect in the murder case. Some of the factors that can distract or impair an eyewitness’s ability to identify the actual suspect in a murder case include:
- The stress associated with the incident.
- The culprit is from a different race.
- Improper or misleading suggestions by law enforcement officers.
- The incident occurred several days or weeks ago.
If your defense attorney can demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the eyewitnesses’ identification is unreliable, the court could reduce or dismiss your murder charges.
Other Offenses Related to Murder Charges Under PC 187
The crime of murder under PC 187 is closely related to the other offenses explained below because they involve the illegal killing or attempted killing of another person:
You commit the offense of attempted murder under PC 664/187(a) if you have intentions of killing another human being or fetus and you take a direct step to do so, but the person does not die. Like murder charges, the severity of the penalties you will face upon conviction will depend on the degree or seriousness of your offense.
A first-degree attempted murder conviction could attract life imprisonment. However, when the prosecutor files your case as second-degree attempted murder, your sentence could include five (5), seven (7), or nine (9) years of custody in the state prison.
According to PC 192(a), you commit the offense of voluntary manslaughter when you kill another human being during the heat of passion or a sudden alteration or quarrel. The difference between voluntary manslaughter and first-degree murder is the defendant's mental intent at the time of the offense.
Unlike a first-degree murder charge under PC 187, the prosecutor does not have to prove that you had malice aforethought to secure a conviction against you for a PC 192(a) violation. If you are guilty of a PC 192(a) violation, your sentence could include six (6) or eleven (11) years of detention in the state prison.
Another offense related to a murder charge under PC 187 is involuntary manslaughter. According to PC 192(b), involuntary manslaughter is the illegal killing of another person without malice aforethought and with the criminal intent to kill but with conscious disregard for human safety or life. Unlike an accidental killing, involuntary manslaughter involves either of the following:
- An illegal act or conduct (not qualifying as a felony).
- A legal act or conduct with a significant risk of physical injury or death.
Upon a conviction for a PC 192(b) violation, you should expect a jail sentence of two (2), three (3), or four (4) years.
Find a Palm Desert Defense Attorney Near Me
If you are under investigation or are facing murder charges in Palm Desert, you can count on our reliable defense attorneys at Desert Defense Lawyers for outstanding legal representation. We will aggressively challenge the allegations you are up against to secure the best possible outcome.
Call us at 888-293-0396 to schedule your initial consultation with our credible defense attorneys while the evidence is fresh in the eyewitnesses’ memories.