Murder & Homicide

A homicide is any death of a person caused by another individual, and the justice system draws distinctions between three large subcategories: intentional murder, manslaughter and justifiable homicide. Murder refers to cases in which a client is accused of intentionally killing the victim.

First-degree murder, the most serious type of murder in California, applies to instances where the victim was killed in one of the following ways:

  • By using a destructive device or explosive weapon of mass destruction, armor-piercing ammunition or poison
  • By lying in wait or using torture
  • By killing in a willful, deliberate and premeditated manner
  • By killing during a felony in which the death of another is a foreseeable consequence

California also recognizes capital murder, which is punishable by the death penalty. By statute, there are more than 20 scenarios that make a first-degree murder a death penalty-eligible offense. Second-degree murder is also recognized in those situations where the person is accused of intentionally killing the victim, but not in a manner that was premeditated.

There are 43 special circumstances which turn ordinary murder into capital murder:

  1. Financial Gain – to obtain a monetary or financial benefit
  2. Prior Conviction – If previously convicted of first- or second-degree murder
  3. Multiple Convictions – If convicted of other first- or second-degree murders in the same trial (at least one must be first-degree)
  4. Bomb of Other Destructive Device – Intent to kill is not necessary for conviction. Only that the he/she reasonable should have known that his/her actions put others at risk of death.
  5. Preventing Arrest or Escaping – While trying to avoid arrest or escaping custody
  6. Law Enforcement Officer, Federal Agent, or Firefighter – If the defendant knowingly killed a law enforcement officer, Federal agent or firefighter while they were performing their public safety duties
  7. Murder of a Witness – If the witness to a crime is murdered (either during the commission of the inital crime or during the court proceedings) in attempt to keep the witness from testifying
  8. Prosecutor, Judge, Government Official, or Juror – If murdered in retaliation for performing official duties
  9. Lying in Wait – If the defendant attempts to conceal their intent or surprise the victim
  10. Race, Religion, or Nationality – If the the victim was murdered because of race, color, religion, or nationality.
  11. Commission of a Felony – While committing or attempting to commit a felony. No intent to murder is needed, only the intent to commit the felony.
  12. Involving Torture – involving torture – or pain or suffering – prior to the murder
  13. Poison – Using poison to kill the victim
  14. Drive-by Shootings – Committed by firing a gun outside of a moving vehicle with the intent to harm
  15. Street Gang Member – Commited to benefit a criminal gang
  16. Heinous, Atrocious, or Cruel Murder – Murder that is especially atrocious or cruel