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In California, murder is described as the taking the life of a human or fetus in an unlawful manner. This information is listed under Penal Code 187. One component to keep in mind about murder is that there is malice aforethought associated with the crime, which means that the defendant had some plan in place to commit the crime. The defendant had no regard for the life of the person when the murder took place and committed an act that resulted in the death of the victim.
There are two degrees of murder in the eyes of the court. If the defendant is convicted of first-degree murder, then the sentence is typically 25 years to life in prison. In some states, this degree of murder can be sentenced by the death penalty. There are a few components involved with first-degree murder that must be met before a conviction. These include committing an act with a destructive device, using a weapon of mass destruction, poisoning, lying in wait for someone before the killing takes place, or torturing the victim before death. Another element of first-degree murder is that the defendant committed the act in a willful manner that was deliberate and intentional. Another way that first-degree murder can be charged is if the death occurs while a felony is being committed. Other types of murder are listed as second-degree. The sentence for second-degree murder is usually 15 years to life depending on the severity of the crime committed.
There are a few defenses that an attorney can use or that the defendant can use in court when representing oneself without legal assistance. Self-defense is one of the most common defenses that are used as well as insanity. At times, the attorney might declare that the killing was an accident. A coerced confession is another defense as well as an illegal search and seizure that was conducted. Sometimes, a defendant is a victim of being misidentified.
An example of first-degree murder would be if someone intentionally goes to another person’s house and kills that person. Another manner of first-degree murder is lying in wait for someone to come home, such as the person being in the bushes, and committing the crime when the person enters the home or just before the person gets inside the house. Any time a destructive or explosive device is used that results in the death of someone else, then the defendant is typically charged with first-degree murder.
If there are special circumstances associated with first-degree murder, then the charge would be classified as capital murder. The defendant would then spend time in a state prison or be sentenced to death. There are almost two dozen situations that could be considered capital murder. One situation is when there are multiple victims. A common type of capital murder situation is when the victim is a member of law enforcement or another emergency official or someone who works in the legal field, such as a judge or attorney. If the defendant murdered a witness to keep that person from testifying, then that would be considered a capital case. Other examples include killing someone because of a certain race, religion, or nationality or killing someone by discharging a gun from a vehicle.
Examples of second-degree murder include killing someone after shooting into an occupied building without the intent to kill anyone. Someone who is convicted of a DUI and gets involved in an accident and kills someone would be charged with second-degree murder.
In California, the felony-murder rule applies. If a murder occurs while a felonious act is being committed, then the defendant would be charged with the original crime as well as murder. An example would be if someone robs a bank and shoots at something in the building, resulting in the bullet hitting someone inside the bank and that person dying. The intention wasn’t to kill that person, but since the act was committed during a felony, then a murder has taken place.