Murder and Homicide Charges

Murder & Homicide

A homicide is any death of a person caused by another individual, and the justice system draws distinctions between three large subcategories: intentional murder, manslaughter and justifiable homicide. Murder refers to cases in which a client is accused of intentionally killing the victim.

First-degree murder, the most serious type of murder in California, applies to instances where the victim was killed in one of the following ways:

  • By using a destructive device or explosive weapon of mass destruction, armor-piercing ammunition or poison
  • By lying in wait or using torture
  • By killing in a willful, deliberate and premeditated manner
  • By killing during a felony in which the death of another is a foreseeable consequence

California also recognizes capital murder, which is punishable by the death penalty. By statute, there are more than 20 scenarios that make a first-degree murder a death penalty-eligible offense. Second-degree murder is also recognized in those situations where the person is accused of intentionally killing the victim, but not in a manner that was premeditated.

There are 43 special circumstances which turn ordinary murder into capital murder:

  1. Murder for Financial Gain – Murder in order to obtain a monetary or financial benefit
  2. Prior Murder Conviction – If previously convicted of first- or second-degree murder
  3. Multiple Murder Convictions – if convicted of other first- or second-degree murders in the same trial (at least one must be first-degree)
  4. Murder by Bomb of Other Destructive Device – Intent to kill is not necessary for conviction. Only that the he/she reasonable should have known that his/her actions put others at risk of death.
  5. Preventing Arrest or Escaping – Murder while trying to avoid arrest or escaping custody
  6. Murder of a Law Enforcement Officer, Federal Agent, or Firefighter – if the defendant knowingly killed a law enforcement officer, Federal agent or firefighter while they were performing their public safety duties
  7. Murder of a Witness – if the witness to a crime is murdered (either during the commission of the inital crime or during the court proceedings) in attempt to keep the witness from testifying
  8. Murder of a Prosecutor, Judge, Government Official, or Juror – if murdered in retaliation for performing official duties
  9. Lying in Wait – if the defendant attempts to conceal their intent or surprise the victim
  10. Murder because of Race, Religion, or Nationality – if the the victim was murdered because of race, color, religion, or nationality.
  11. Murder in Commission of a Felony – Murder while committing or attempting to commit a felony. No intent to murder is needed, only the intent to commit the felony.
  12. Murder Involving Torture – Murder involving torture – or pain or suffering – prior to the murder
  13. Murder by Poison – Using poison to murder the victim
  14. Drive-by Shootings – Murder committed by firing a gun outside of a moving vehicle with the intent to harm
  15. Murder by Street Gang Member – Murder commited to benefit a criminal gang
  16. Heinous, Atrocious, or Cruel Murder – Murder that is especially atrocious or cruel


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