A young 24-year-old man was recently arrested for the murder of his girlfriend. The Laguna Hills resident is being accused of stabbing his girlfriend to death. According to authorities, he was taken into custody in Arizona and is now being questioned, pending extradition back to Orange County California. As an experienced criminal defense attorney, practicing law in Orange County for 20 years, my first advise to this young man would be to hire an attorney before talking to anyone. The authorities have a way of both intimidating people into saying things they don’t mean as well as offering a false sense of compassion, in order to elicit a confession.
When someone is being accused of something as serious as murder, especially someone this young with relatively little life experience, the fear and stress is overwhelming and can cause a person to respond in ways they normally would not. People, especially young people, when being questioned by the authorities, want to be believed and if they are not will often change their story or add more or less detail in order to make the questioning stop. Also, being questioned by the authorities for such a serious crime can be so intimidating that the person makes mistakes, and misstates what they mean.
The details of this case are not yet known and exactly what happened is yet to be seen. But, if this young man was in some way involved in this young woman’s death, looking to why this happened and under what circumstances is crucial to his defense. When the crime of murder is committed involving people, who know each other, often there is escalating emotional circumstances that end tragically.
In order to be convicted of murder, the following elements must be met:
1. That you committed an act that resulted in the death of another person;
2. That it was committed with malice aforethought; and
3. It was without lawful excuse or justification.
There are different degrees of murder but California law defines murder as: “The unlawful killing of a human being or fetus with malice aforethought.” Let’s take a look at some of the more common charges of murder:
1. First Degree Murder – In order to be convicted of first degree murder, the prosecution must prove that: a) you committed the murder; b) the murder was committed in a way that was willful, deliberate and premeditated; or c) the murder was committed by way of the “felony-murder rule”.
2. Second Degree Murder – Like first-degree murder, it had to have been willful but not deliberate and premeditated.
3. Manslaughter, Voluntary vs. Involuntary – Involuntary manslaughter involves an unintentional death. An unlawful killing that takes place during the commission of an unlawful act or, during the commission of a lawful act which involves high risk of death or great bodily injury, that it committed without due caution. Voluntary manslaughter applies to killings that are committed during a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion.
These are just a few examples of the different degrees of murder. If convicted, the sentence will depend upon what he pleads to or what charge he is ultimately convicted of. The following are some examples of the sentence, if convicted, this young man may be facing:
1. A conviction of first-degree murder carries a potential sentence of 25 years to life;
2. A conviction of second degree murder carries a potential sentence of 15 years to life; and
3. Manslaughter: A conviction of voluntary manslaughter is three, six or eleven years in state prison. A conviction of involuntary manslaughter is: formal probation and up to 1 year in county jail or two, three or four years in state prison.
As you can see, the difference of being convicted of murder vs. any of the other possibilities is quite significant. For this reason, hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is the most important thing a person can do when facing the charge of murder.
If you would like to know more about the charge of murder, contact Orange County Attorney William Weinberg.