Homicide and crimes of violence are the most serious felonies for which a person can be charged in California, and they carry harsh consequences for the convicted. Homicide is the killing of another human being. The category includes murder, manslaughter, and many different types of accidents that may not be charged as crimes; homicide may also include killing another person in self-defense. “Violent felonies” under California law are those that the legislature believes merit special consideration during sentencing. If you have been arrested or charged with any of these severe offenses, it is critical that you seek the advice of a knowledgeable California criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
How is Murder Defined?
California’s complex murder law is codified in Penal Code section 187(a). It is defined as "the unlawful killing of a human being or a fetus with malice aforethought.” “Malice aforethought” refers to the accused’s state of mind at the time he or she acts to cause the killing. First-degree murder is charged against someone who killed another using destructive devices, using poison, by lying in wait, or by inflicting torture.
Generally, the most severely punished type of murder is “capital murder,” a designation that can be applied to twenty different variations of first-degree murder. These include murdering someone for financial gain, murdering someone because of race or color, murdering multiple victims, and drive-by shootings that cause death. A person who is convicted of capital murder is subject to the death penalty or a state prison sentence for life without possibility of parole.
Further, if someone dies during the commission of certain crimes such as rape, mayhem, robbery, or carjacking, the first-degree felony-murder rule attaches. This means that those who carry out one of those specified crimes may be subject to murder liability if a death results that is logically related to the commission of that crime. Crimes that are not enumerated, but which lead to someone’s death may be subject to a second-degree felony murder rule.
Second-degree murder in California is also willful, but it is not premeditated. For example, a person who is convicted of a DUI and then gets drunk and causes an accident resulting in death may be charged with second-degree murder.
Punishment for Violent Crimes
The various offenses characterized as violent crimes can each carry different, severe penalties at a sentencing hearing. For example, in California, carjacking may subject you to up to nine years in state prison, but will most likely subject you to more than nine years if you injure a victim, use a gun, carjack on behalf of a gang, or kidnap someone during the carjacking. If you are convicted of mayhem, you may face eight years in state prison, and the sentence is increased if you are convicted of aggravated mayhem.
The types of violent felonies that may increase prison terms and subject you to 25 years to life in prison under California’s three strikes law are enumerated in Penal Code section 667.5. The list includes murder, mayhem, certain types of rape and sexual assault, felonies punishable by death or life imprisonment, robbery, arson, attempted murder, kidnapping, carjacking, domestic violence, aggravated weapons charges, and battery against a police officer. When a conviction is secured on a third strike under the three strikes law, the convicted individual must serve at least 85% of his or her sentence before becoming eligible for parole.
Defenses to Charges Involving Crimes of Violence
Convictions for violent crimes carry serious legal and social consequences. However, a tough criminal defense attorney can employ a number of defense strategies to help you if you are arrested for one of these offenses. When the police are pressured to find a perpetrator and do not conduct a thorough investigation, mistakes may occur that can be raised before or during trial. For example, the police may use unconstitutional interrogation or search procedures that mandate a dismissal. Further, witness’ memories are not always sound at trial, and thus may not be able to withstand detailed questioning by the defense. A skilled defense attorney can also explain to a jury how additional evidence creates reasonable doubt as to a defendant’s guilt of the charged offense.
Michael Wise has handled several homicide cases both as a prosecutor and as a criminal defense attorney. He has been both retained privately and appointed by the court to handle complex murder cases, gang murder cases, and domestic violence murder cases.
If you or a loved one is accused of a violent crime or homicide, you should consult with an experienced Sacramento criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to mount a forceful defense. Contact the Wise Law Group at 916-498-9473 or via our online contact form.