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Jan 30, 2022

What Are the Penalties for Murder in California?

Murder is the most serious crime that exists. Taking another person’s life – whether intentionally or by accident – not only prevents the victim from living their life to the fullest. It also robs their loved ones and can have a traumatic impact on individuals, families, and communities for generations to come. That’s why under California law, and U.S. law in the general, the penalties for murder or homicide are very severe.

By learning more about the legalities of murder and homicide, you can defend yourself against the charges you’re facing, as well as hire an Oakland criminal defense attorney to help you in your time of need.

What Are Murder and Homicide?

While they are used interchangeably in our society, under the law, murder and homicide are not quite the same.

Essentially, homicide is defined as the act of lawfully or unlawfully killing another person. The two kinds of criminal homicide are manslaughter and murder.

Murder includes the intent to kill. Under California’s Penal Code Section 187, you could be charged with murder if you kill a person, including a fetus, with malice, which is the desire or intention to do evil. There is implied malice, which would apply if you intended to harm someone or endanger their life, and express malice, which would apply if you had a premeditated intention to kill someone.

For instance, John may have stolen $10,000 from Raymond. Rather than call the police, Raymond decides to take revenge and murder John. He knows where John works, so he ambushes him after work and shoots him, killing him. This would be considered murder.

Manslaughter happens when one person kills another, but there was no premeditation. For instance, Mary was driving her car and texting at the same time. Since she wasn’t paying attention to the road, she didn’t see a pedestrian crossing the street. She struck him and killed him. This would be considered manslaughter, since it was an accident and she had not intended to kill the man.

California classifies murder in the first- and second-degrees, and has a separate category for capital murder. There are also three kinds of manslaughter: voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, and vehicular manslaughter.

Types of Murder Penalties in California

If you kill someone, you could be potentially charged with first-degree murder in California. This means that the murder was premeditated. It also includes felony-murder, where someone dies during a carjacking, rape, robbery, or another severe crime.

If you are convicted of first-degree murder, you could be sent away to prison for 25 years to life. If the killing included torture, a destructive device, or lying in wait, you could get life in prison with no parole or capital punishment, which is also known as the death penalty. Keep in mind, however, that in California, while the death penalty is legal, Governor Gavin Newsom halted executions with an official moratorium. An example of first-degree murder would apply if Bill stalked Amanda for weeks on end, studying her every move, and then one day killed her.

Second-degree murder includes intention and malice but no deliberation or premeditation before the crime occurs. It is also any murder that does not qualify for first-degree murder. The penalty for second-degree murder is 15 years to life in prison. An example of second-degree murder is if you shoot someone, even though you didn’t intend to kill them, and they end up dying.

Capital murder is defined as murder with special circumstances, and includes about 20 types of crimes that could be charged as capital murder. Some are murdering for a hate crime, murdering for financial purposes, or murdering a public servant. A capital murder crime could include murdering someone because you don’t like the color of their skin, for instance. If convicted of capital murder, you could spend life in prison without parole, or get the death penalty.

Types of Manslaughter Penalties in California

There are three kinds of manslaughter in California: Voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, and vehicular manslaughter.

Voluntary manslaughter is defined as the killing of another person deliberately and willfully but without premeditation. This could include a “heat of the moment” killing. For example, Bob comes home and catches his wife Lucy cheating on him with another man. He takes a baseball bat and strikes the man, and this leads to the man going to the hospital and dying. Bob did not intend to kill the man and reacted out of passion. This could potentially qualify as voluntary manslaughter. The penalty for voluntary manslaughter is up to 11 years in prison.

Involuntary manslaughter happens when someone kills another person without any intent to kill them – or any malice – but with a conscious disregard for their life. Involuntary manslaughter could result in a four-year prison sentence. Involuntary manslaughter could be relevant if someone accidentally discharges their firearm while in an argument with another person, or they unintentionally kill someone when committing a non-dangerous criminal offense.

Vehicular manslaughter involves killing another person while you are driving, and it’s a wobbler law. This means it could be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances surrounding your case. Vehicular manslaughter could apply if you were speeding while driving and you accidentally killed a passenger or another driver.

Defenses for Homicide in California

Though getting charged with any type of homicide is scary, there are defenses you can use to prove your innocence.

For instance, maybe you were acting out of self-defense. Someone was charging at you with a weapon or threatening your life, or the life of someone else, and you were trying to protect yourself or others.

You might have also been arrested for homicide after an illegal search and seizure. The police didn’t have the right to search you, and any evidence they found of a crime would likely not hold up in court if this defense were used.

Another defense is that you were legally insane when the alleged homicide occurred. You have a persistent psychiatric disease, and you would have never harmed anyone if you were not sick.

Killing someone in an accident is another defense. Perhaps you did not intend to do harm, you were not committing any other crimes at the time, and you were not acting out of negligence.

You may have also not used a dangerous weapon, or the person who was killed could have provoked you.

The prosecutor needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of homicide. If they do not have the right evidence to do this, and the jury is not convinced, then the charges are not going to result in a conviction. Oftentimes, if prosecutors lack evidence – or they simply want to clear up the court system, they will strike a plea bargain with you.

What’s a Plea Bargain?

A plea bargain involves making a “deal” with a prosecutor. Most criminal cases end in a plea deal because the court systems are backed up. You will either plead guilty or no contest to some or all of your charges in order to get your charges reduced or dropped altogether.

This isn’t the only option, though, and you do have a choice when it comes to whether or not you want to go to court. Of course, you should listen to your Oakland criminal defense attorney’s opinion. If they think you should take a plea bargain based on their experience with similar cases, then it’s probably a good idea. But if they think you should take the fight all the way to court to get all the charges dropped, then you may want to do that instead.

What to Do After Getting Arrested for Homicide

If you get arrested for homicide, the first thing to do is stay silent. Even if you are pressured to talk, don’t tell the police anything. Instead, as soon as you are allowed to make a phone call, contact an Oakland criminal defense attorney and ask them what to do. Don’t reveal anything about the circumstances of the alleged crime on the phone. Wait to get into more specific details when you meet with your attorney in person.

Additionally, ask your attorney if it’s wise to post bail. You should also write down everything you remember about the arrest just in case the police did anything wrong, like fail to read you your Miranda rights or conduct an illegal search and seizure.

Make sure you don’t talk to anyone, aside from your attorney, about your case. This includes chatting on social media or texting with a friend. Under no circumstances should you get in touch with the alleged victim’s loved ones, even if you have good intentions.

When you meet with your attorney, bring any evidence you have to prove your innocence. For example, maybe someone recorded the incident on video or took photos that could show you were defending yourself. Maybe you have an alibi, because you were at work at the time the incident occurred. Or, perhaps the person you allegedly killed was a criminal with a record of being violent in the past, and you were acting out of self-defense.

You should also ask your attorney about their past experience with murder and manslaughter cases and ask to see their case results. In addition, ask questions about the criminal justice process and what you can expect to happen with your case. For instance, does your attorney plan to take your case to trial, or would they rather make a plea deal? Are you looking at a few years behind bars, or could you go to prison for life? What else could happen to you as a result of these charges? Will you have a hard time getting a job in the future, for instance?

The court is going to offer you a free, court-appointed attorney, but just note that this is not the best option. These attorneys are overworked because they are handling a number of cases at the same time. They will not be able to meet with you when you want, answer all your questions, or intently focus on your case. This could have disastrous consequences. You may have to serve your full sentence, for instance. Instead, invest in an Oakland criminal defense attorney instead so that you have a greater chance of winning your case.

Hiring an Oakland Criminal Defense Attorney

To find an Oakland criminal defense attorney, look for one who has several years of experience dealing with criminal cases and has excellent case results. Elliot Silver of Silver Law Firm fits this description perfectly. Just look at his past case results.

In one criminal case, the police searched his client’s property when they conducted a raid on a marijuana grow house. In addition to the illegal drugs found, the client, who was the resident, was also charged with possession of an AK-47. This was an illegal firearm, and he was facing felony time in custody charges. With such uncompromising legal representation, Elliott Silver guaranteed that his client only saw misdemeanor penalties and no jail time.

In another case, Elliot Silver represented a young man who was charged with breaking his mother’s nose. Once it came to light that this young man was off his medications at the time of the incident, attorney Silver presented the situation as an uncharacteristic mistake. The case ended up being dismissed. By approaching this client’s case with compassion as well as attention to detail, Elliot Silver provided his client with a second chance.

Elliot is prepared to assist you as well to try and secure a favorable outcome for your case. If you’ve been charged with homicide or any other criminal charges and need representation, reach out to Oakland criminal defense attorney Elliot Silver today at (510) 995-0000 or by emailing him at He looks forward to hearing from you and helping you with your case.

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