A "homicide" is the killing of a person by
another. A person associated with the
death of another should expect serious scrutiny from law enforcement. Although a person contacted by the police may
not feel responsible for the death, there is no guarantee that the
investigating officers will feel likewise.
If you expect homicide detectives to contact you, an experienced
criminal defense attorney can ensure your rights are respected and your best
interests are protected. The results of
a homicide investigation can have very real and life long effects, so do not
hesitate to call a reputable defense lawyer at the first hint of trouble.
The circumstances of a homicide will
determine what, if any, charges are filed. "Murder"
and "manslaughter" are types of homicide where a defendant
kills without a legally recognized justification or excuse. There are subtle distinctions that
differentiate murder from manslaughter, and the punishment for a homicide conviction
can be anything from probation to execution depending on those fine legal
points. A savvy defense attorney can
make all the difference for a homicide defendant.
A murder is a killing committed with malice
and can be divided between first or second degree. First degree murder is charged when the
defendant either acted with premeditation and deliberation, killed someone
while committing an inherently dangerous felony, or killed a person by a
specific manner or means outlawed in California (i.e. torture, ambush, poisoning,
bombing, etc.). All other killings
committed with malice are considered second degree murder. A conviction for first degree murder normally
results in a sentence of 25-years-to-life in prison; however, if "special circumstances" are proven the defendant can be sentenced to
life in prison without the opportunity of parole (LWOP) or death. The punishment for murder in the second
degree is normally 15-years-to-life.
A defendant commits manslaughter by killing
another person without malice.
Manslaughter is divided into three categories: voluntary, involuntary,
and vehicular. Voluntary manslaughter
occurs when a defendant possesses an intent to kill, but some mitigating factor
is present, such as provocation or an unreasonable belief in the need for
self-defense. Involuntary manslaughter
is a killing resulting from a defendant's
criminally negligent behavior. Vehicular
manslaughter is a killing caused by a defendant's grossly negligent operation of a car or
Although a defendant may feel responsible for
the death of another, the law in California recognizes circumstances where a
killing may be considered lawful. Given
the proper circumstances, a diligent defense lawyer can properly prepare and
present a persuasive case of justifiable or excusable homicide. A few examples of justifiable or excusable
homicide include self-defense, accidental death, and "heat of passion" killing.
There are many more recognized defenses available depending on the
individual facts of a particular homicide case.
A knowledgeable defense attorney can determine the applicability of recognized defenses and how best to present them in court.
A homicide is lawful if a defendant kills in
self-defense. Self-defense is
justifiable if the defendant reasonably believed he was in imminent danger of
death or great bodily injury, the immediate use of deadly force was necessary
to defend against the danger, and the defendant used no more force than
necessary to defend against the danger.
Belief in future harm is insufficient, regardless of the severity or
likelihood of the harm. Furthermore, a
defendant is only entitled to use that amount of force that a reasonable person
would use under the same circumstances.
Nonetheless, a person is not required to retreat when threatened. A person is entitled to stand his ground and
defend himself even if safety could be achieved by escaping. However, self-defense will rarely be
recognized by a person who starts a fight.
A homicide is excusable if a defendant killed
someone as a result of an accident or other misfortune. A homicide can be considered accidental when
the defendant unintentionally kills another while doing a lawful act in a
lawful way while acting with usual and ordinary caution. A person acts with "usual and ordinary caution" if he acts in a way that a reasonably
careful person would act in the same or similar situation.
A homicide is excusable if a defendant accidentally kills
someone while acting in the "heat
of passion." A
defendant acts in the "heat
of passion" when provoked into committing a rash act
under the influence of intense emotion that obscures reasoning or
judgment. The provocation must be
sufficient to cause a person of average disposition to act rashly and without
due deliberation, that is, from passion rather than judgment. "Heat
of passion" does not require anger, rage, or any
specific emotion. It can be any violent
or intense emotion that causes a person to act without due deliberation and
reflection. However, a defendant may
still be convicted of battery despite being acquitted of homicide due to
successfully proving the defendant acted in the "heat of passion."
Considering the stakes involved for a
homicide defendant, the wisest course of action is to contact and retain the
best criminal defense attorney available as early as possible to ensure the
best possible result.
Penal Code sections 187, 188, 189, 190, & 192