California Law Regarding Murder


A woman was driving her vehicle in Maui with her twin sister sitting in the passenger seat. Witnesses said they observed the two sisters arguing in the car while the car was stopped and that the sister in the passenger seat was seen pulling the driver’s hair. Another witness described the driver as being in a rage before the vehicle took off for a sharp left into a rock wall and then plunging 200 feet over a cliff. The passenger died. The driver was charged with the second-degree murder of her sister.

The prosecutor alleged that the driver intentionally caused the death of her sister. In Hawaii second-degree murder can be charged if a person intentionally or knowingly causes the death of another person. At first glance, you might ask: How could the driver know that the accident would kill her sister, and perhaps more to point, kill her sister but not her? Maybe the driver intended it to be a murder/suicide. And you might also wonder how the prosecution could prove that the driver intended to kill her sister. That witnesses saw the two in a heated argument in the vehicle plus evidence that when the driver went off the cliff, she did not hit her brakes, was not enough for the judge. At the preliminary hearing the judge dismissed the murder charge after finding that there was no probable cause to support the charge. The judge determined that the prosecution lacked sufficient evidence to support the allegation that the driver intentionally caused her sister’s death.

In California, even without the express intent to kill someone, a person can still be charged with second-degree murder. If a person acts with implied malice, that is, with reckless disregard in a manner he or she knows could result in death, and that act results in the death of another, he or she could be charged with second-degree murder. Implied malice does not require that there is any intent to harm the victim or even any planning; it only requires that an intentional act results in the death of another when it is known that a natural consequence of that act may result in the death of another but the act is carried out anyway.

So to use the example of the twin sisters in Hawaii, in California, if someone is driving in a dangerous and reckless manner, knowing that his or her driving could cause the death of another but continues to drive in that manner and due to the dangerous and reckless driving causes the death of another, he or she could be charged with second-degree murder. The charges may have been easier to prosecute if the incident occurred in California; however, the prosecution may have found it difficult to prove that the driver knew her driving was dangerous to human life but chose to continue driving in such a manner.

An illustration of second-degree murder is easier to understand when the circumstances involve an act that is clearly dangerous to human life. For example: someone shoots a gun in the air, without any intention of killing anyone, but in an area where others are present; a bullet from the gun strikes and kills another person.

If you have been charged with second-degree murder in California, the prosecution must be able to prove that you knew your act was dangerous to human life but you chose to complete the act anyway. This is not always easy to prove. An experienced criminal defense attorney understands how to take full advantage of this defense and can often defeat the charge or secure a conviction on a lesser charge, such as manslaughter, based on the prosecution’s failure to prove the knowledge element of the charge.

William Weinberg is an experienced criminal defense attorney who can advise you regarding any criminal defense matter, including the serious charge of murder. You can contact Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney William Weinberg at 949-474-8008 or at