If you face murder charges in California, the quick answer is to call a criminal defense lawyer. Murder is a serious charge, and you will need experienced legal representation.
The more detailed answer is far more complex and depends on the type of murder charge you are facing and the circumstances of the case.
Types of Murder Charges in California
In Los Angeles, murder is defined under California Penal Code Section 187. Murder is the act of causing the death of another individual. The killing is committed with malice. The individual may be a person or an unborn child.
Malice, also called malice aforethought, refers to your mental state at the time of the alleged victim’s death. It also describes the intent needed to kill someone. For instance, one type of malice is acting with deliberate disregard of human life. Another type of malice is the intent to kill.
California has two types of murder charges: first-degree and second-degree murder.
First-degree murder is the willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of another person. Under this definition, you can be convicted if you planned to kill or deliberately killed the alleged victim.
You may also be charged with first-degree murder if you committed a felony like arson or rape that caused someone to die. A first-degree murder conviction will result in 25 years to life in prison.
Second-degree murder includes other killings where the accused attempted to deliberately harm the victim. A second-degree murder conviction is punishable by 15 years to life in state prison.
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What Is Manslaughter?
Manslaughter is a lesser charge than murder. A person can be charged with manslaughter in the killing of another if there was no malice aforethought, and they are considered less culpable than those charged with second-degree murder. Manslaughter charges are often brought when the killing was unintentional.
Alternatively, a person could be convicted of manslaughter as part of a plea bargain after initially being charged with murder. The potential penalties for a voluntary manslaughter charge are three to 11 years in prison. Meanwhile, involuntary manslaughter is punishable by up to four years in prison.
A criminal defense attorney may be able to negotiate a plea deal bringing a first or second-degree murder charge down to manslaughter and ensuring you avoid additional years in prison.
Exercising the Right to Remain Silent
You do not have to answer police questions when you are accused of murder in Los Angeles. The Fifth Amendment gives you the right to remain silent and not answer questions to aid in a police investigation. If you have been accused of murder, you can politely exercise your right not to answer questions until your Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer is present.
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Posting Bail in a Murder Case
You likely want to get out of jail immediately, or you want to get your loved one out of jail immediately by posting bail. Posting bail without having all the information to make the best decision can be harmful in a murder case. You want a criminal defense lawyer to:
- Look over the facts of the case to determine if bail can be lowered or you can be released without bail. In some situations, prosecutors do not have enough evidence in a murder case.
- Tell you whether the murder charges will be dropped at your arraignment hearing. If the charges get dropped, you will be released from jail within two days without having to post bail.
- Determine if you should leave jail. There’s a chance the judge will increase bail at the arraignment.
- Lower the bail bondsman charge, typically a 10 percent fee. You may get that reduced to 8 percent with the help of a lawyer.
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Proving Your Innocence
The most important thing you can do to protect yourself if charged with murder in California is hire an experienced criminal defense attorney. A murder charge is one of the most serious offenses under California law, and you should not gamble your future on a court-appointed lawyer.
You can do many things to help your defense attorney fight your murder charge. Make a list of witnesses who can provide an alibi or testify in your favor. A witness list will help your attorney investigate your murder case.
Write down what you remember about the alleged crime. You want to provide your criminal attorney with accurate information while it remains fresh in your mind. You want to include information about who you were with at the time of the crime and where you were when the crime took place.
Do Not Talk About the Case with Anyone
Avoid talking with family and friends about events surrounding the crime. Conversations with your friends and family (spouse not included) are not legally protected by law. Because of this, prosecutors may call your family or friends about what you told them about the alleged murder.
It is also best to stay off of social media when you are facing a murder charge or any other criminal charge for that matter. Even if your social media pages are set to maximum privacy, there may still be the possibility that information entered there could be used against you.
Even if you think the comments you are making support your alibi or are completely innocuous, your words can be twisted. Aside from your spouse and your lawyer, you should not share information with anyone else unless your legal counsel advises you to do so.
Those falsely accused often feel compelled to set the record straight, but there is a time and a place for that.
Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer Immediately
The most important step you can take when accused of murder in California is to contact a criminal defense lawyer. Prosecutors know all the legal technicalities of murder law. They know how to present an unfair plea deal as your best and only option. Hiring a criminal defense lawyer will level the playing field in your murder case.
In addition, your criminal defense lawyer will explain your specific murder charge and determine the best defense to prove your case at trial. We are experienced in assisting clients accused of first and second-degree murder. Contact us immediately to schedule your free initial consultation.