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California Murder Laws

California defines murder as “the unlawful killing of a human being or a fetus with malice aforethought.” As straightforward as that sounds, there are many degrees to the charge of murder. The circumstances of how the person was killed or how they died, will affect how the District Attorney will file the charges and will also help to determine the defense your criminal defense attorney will use. As an experienced Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney, my priority is always to protect the rights of my client, which, often times are violated during the initial investigation and subsequent arrest. I look closely at police conduct both prior to and after the arrest. It is also extremely important to interview any witnesses that the police agency has interviewed because police reports often leave out important information that witnesses may have provided and, whether intentional or not, the investigating officers have omitted from his or her report.

If it is determined that the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the prosecution, then the circumstances surrounding the death becomes the focal point. For example, was it an accident; was it during a heated argument; was it self-defense. There are many more defenses that an experienced murder defense attorney should explore. Let’s take for example a situation where two people who know each other begin to argue and the argument escalates until one of them looses control and ends up killing the other. It was not the intent of the person to kill the other but nonetheless, they now face murder charges. In this situation, a good criminal defense attorney should proceed to build his case with a view toward having the charges reduced to voluntary manslaughter. For purposes of this writing, I will discuss voluntary manslaughter and the possible sentences.

Voluntary manslaughter applies to killings that are committed during a sudden argument or in the heat of passion. The difference between murder and voluntary manslaughter is whether you acted with “malice aforethought. Malice aforethought exists when you act with (1) an intent to kill or (2) a wanton disregard for human life.

What constitutes “sudden argument” or “heat of passion”. What this means is you were provoked, and as a result of being provoked, you acted rashly and under the influence of intense emotion that obscured your reasoning or judgment, and the provocation would have caused an average person to act rashly and without due deliberation…that is, from passion rather than from judgment. Penal Code 192(a) defines heat of passion as: any violent or intense emotion that causes a person to act impulsively.

The penalties, punishment and sentencing vary depending upon the circumstances and the plea agreement reached. If convicted of voluntary manslaughter, you face three, six, or eleven years in prison. However, if convicted of murder, the exposure of time is 15 years to life in prison and the possibility of a death sentence. Other penalties might include: 1) a strike on your record which could increase your penalties if you have any prior felonies or if you are convicted of any future felonies; 2) a maximum $10,000.00 fine; 3) the loss of the right to own a firearm; 4) community service such as Cal Trans; 5) counseling services; and 6) any other conditions that the court deems appropriate.

Hiring the right criminal defense attorney in Orange County, California, can be the most important decision a person makes when being accused and/or charged with a criminal matter.

Anyone being accused of a crime in Orange County, California, should seek the advise of an attorney who is familiar with all the Courts in Orange County. An attorney who has a good working relationship with the individual Judges, District Attorneys, Court Clerks and Probation Department, as well as the Court staff, will be better able to get your charges reduced and/or dismissed. An attorney familiar with the Courts in which a case is pending will result in the best possible outcome available.


If you would like to know more about murder or voluntary manslaughter contact Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney William Weinberg at his Irvine, California office at 949-474-8008 or at www.williamweinberg.com.