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What Are the Degrees of Murders?

by Lindsay Chambers

Killing someone can bring severe consequences, including extended jail time – with or without the possibility of parole. California’s laws place murder charges on a spectrum based on the circumstances’ severity, including first degree, second degree and manslaughter.

Types of Murder Charges in California

The crucial distinction between first- and second-degree murder is the defendant’s mindset at the time of the crime. Charging someone with first-degree murder under California Penal Code 187 requires proof that they took steps to orchestrate and carry out the killing. In contrast, second-degree murder involves unintentional actions that occur in the heat of the moment. Second-degree murders are not premeditated.  

An example of a first-degree murder would be stalking a victim or lying in wait at their home before killing them. Meanwhile, a second-degree murder is any death caused by a careless disregard for human life, such as firing a loaded gun at a party, inadvertently hitting a guest and causing their death.

Felony murder is a form of first-degree murder you can commit by killing someone while committing a violent crime. For instance, if you are robbing a store and shoot the cashier in a panic because you think they might be calling the police, a judge can find you guilty of a felony murder even if you didn’t plan for anyone to die.  

Murder or Manslaughter – What’s the Difference?

California law also defines a lesser homicide charge called manslaughter that involves accidentally killing someone without malicious intent. For instance, if your actions caused another person’s death, but you were otherwise being a responsible, law-abiding citizen during the incident, an experienced attorney might argue on your behalf to have second-degree murder charges reduced to manslaughter.

While people found guilty of manslaughter will still face prison time, the sentences tend to be much shorter and carry the possibility of parole – as opposed to murder charges, which may result in a life sentence with no parole.

Is Homicide Ever Excusable?

In rare cases, a judge may rule that taking someone else’s life isn’t a crime if you can prove your actions were justifiable under the circumstances. Under California law, defense of yourself or others is one of the most common rationalizations for killing someone.

If you had reason to believe you or your loved ones were in imminent danger of being killed, injured, raped, maimed or robbed, your attorney can put together a self-defense/defense of others argument. Other potential legal arguments in homicide cases include that the victim’s death was an accident or that the defendant was not in their right mind and could not distinguish between right and wrong.    

We Are Here to Take Your Case

Murder and manslaughter are severe, complicated crimes. If you stand accused of committing either offense in Southern California, you need to consult with an Orange County criminal defense attorney immediately. Ronald G. Brower has been a prominent member of the Southern California legal community for more than 45 years. His award-winning team treats every client with the respect they deserve. Reach out today to schedule your consultation.

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