Murder is one of the most serious charges that you can receive in California. Sometimes the charge can be straightforward, but sometimes it can be confusing as to what differentiates murder from manslaughter. The distinction can be slight, but it’s a very important one.
If you’re dealing with any type of conviction, you should have a criminal defense lawyer you can trust. The attorneys at Simmrin Law Group know how to navigate the California legal system and offer free consultations. If you have more questions about your specific case, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team.
What Is Malice?
In order to qualify as murder (as opposed to manslaughter), there must have been “malice aforethought” present before the act. Malice, legally, is the intention to commit an unlawful act without any justification or excuse. Therefore, if you show malice in your act, then there is no way to say that it was unintentional or necessary.
In order to show that you had malice aforethought, meaning malice before the act, the prosecutor may try to characterize you as cruel or reckless. State prosecutors want to pin the harshest possible sentence on you, one that may not apply at all.
If someone is trying to cast you as a malicious person and therefore elevate your charge, a homicide lawyer in California can help. Our team can negotiate with the prosecutor and get your charge decreased or even dropped altogether.
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How Is Malice Applied to Homicide Cases?
In a homicide case, malice is used as the defining factor that proves that you are guilty of murder. Homicide, the killing of another person, can result in different charges, namely manslaughter and murder.
Manslaughter is a much less severe charge than murder is. In a manslaughter case, the homicide is unintentional–this often happens in car accident cases, when someone dies and the perpetrator did not intend to do any damage. Manslaughter can also apply to killings committed in the heat of the moment or with disregard for the safety of others.
Murder, on the other hand, happens when someone kills another maliciously. When someone kills someone else, the court will look to see if there was any malice present before the act. If there is, whether it is expressed malice or implied malice, then the act is considered murder.
What Is Implied Malice?
According to the California Penal Code (CPC) §188, there are two types of malice: express and implied. Express malice is easier to spot, and if it’s present, the murder case is clearly defined. Express malice is any type of malice that is outwardly expressed, usually through a verbal threat, a note, or any other type of expression of intent to kill.
Implied malice, however, is more complicated. Implied malice, as defined by the CPC, happens when “when no considerable provocation appears, or when the circumstances attending the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.”
In general, it’s considered implied malice when someone acts in such a way that they know their actions can kill someone and they don’t do anything to mitigate that. This is different than unintentionally hurting someone – instead, it’s a disregard for any other person’s life.
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Examples of Implied Malice
Examples of express malice are fairly clear-cut–a note, a threat, or a confession can all count as outward signs of malice. However, implied malice is sometimes harder to spot, and cases of implied malice can be more nuanced.
One common example of implied malice is drunk driving. Usually, death due to drunk driving is considered vehicular manslaughter because of the accidental nature of most DUI crashes. However, in some cases, drunk drivers could be charged with murder due to implied malice.
This is because of the California Supreme Court’s ruling in People v Watson (1981). In that case, defendant Watson almost crashed at a red light due to intoxication. They then went on to actually crash, killing two people. Watson’s blood alcohol content (BAC) was almost three times higher than the legal limit, and they were speeding by a significant amount.
Because of the particularly dangerous factors surrounding the homicide, the California Supreme Court decided that the defendant did exhibit implied malice and was therefore guilty of second-degree murder.
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Common Defenses for Implied Malice
Because implied malice is a complicated thing to prove, there are some defenses that homicide defense attorneys in L.A. often use to keep their clients from getting an elevated charge. Common defenses against the implied malice rule include that:
- The defendant was acting in self-defense.
- The defendant was acting recklessly, but with no malice.
- The defendant was not in their right mind at the time.
It’s incredibly difficult for a defendant to prove one of these defenses by themself. That’s why you should have a skilled criminal defense lawyer by your side to help get you through your trial. With our help, you could be able to have your charges reduced to manslaughter or even dropped entirely.
For more information about your homicide case, you can always get a free consultation with one of our defense attorneys. They will assess your situation and tell you what the next steps should be in your defense.
Talk to a Homicide Lawyer in California for Free
If you’re facing a homicide charge, the prosecutor may try to elevate it from manslaughter to murder using the implied malice rule. They shouldn’t be able to get away with charging you with something you’re not guilty of.
California homicide lawyers Simmrin Law Group can help. We have years of experience helping people with criminal charges, and we know how to deal with tricky prosecutors. With our help, you could be able to keep your charge at a reasonable level.
We offer free consultations, so there’s no risk in at least talking to us about your situation. Call us or contact us online to get started.