Homicide Print E-mail

    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 boat.

 
     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

 
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