What’s the Difference Between First and Second-Degree Murder in California?

Most of us have heard the term first-degree murder. And we think we know what this means, but do we really? It’s not until you or a loved have a murder charge that you really need to know the difference. Thankfully, a San Diego criminal defense attorney knows the difference, because they handle these types of cases all the time.

None of us ever think we’ll be charged with a crime, and certainly not a crime as serious as murder. But, for the most part, most criminals don’t think they will either. You never know what life will throw at you.

If the day ever comes when you or a family member are facing these charges, you need to rely on an experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney to help. It will be one of the scariest and most frustrating times of your life. It’s not something you’ll want to handle alone.

A San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney Knows the Murder Laws in California

The state of California defines murder as the killing of another human being. Murder is a homicide, this is the case in all states. What type of murder you’re charged with depends on the circumstances of your case.

California has two main types of murder – first and second degree. Obviously, they both carry different penalties. They also require different types of proof. If you are dealing with either of these crimes, your San Diego criminal defense attorney will work hard to prepare a defense. He will try to get your charges reduced or dismissed.

The defenses available to you depends on which type of murder you’re charged with. The same thing goes for the penalties. Your San Diego criminal defense attorney will discuss this with you when you meet for your initial consultation.

A San Diego Criminal Attorney Can Handle Your First-Degree Murder Case

It’s important to understand California law when it comes to murder. The first type of murder is first-degree murder. It’s the more serious of the two. It also carries very serious penalties.

Most people charged with first degree murder in California have committed very heinous and dangerous offenses. These are killings that involved planning and premeditation.

In order to qualify as first degree, the prosecutor must show that your crime involves special circumstances. The special circumstances in California include:

  • Killings that involve any of the following:
    • Weapons of mass destruction
    • Explosives
    • Poison
    • Armor-piercing ammunition
    • Shootings from a moving vehicle
  • Killings that occurred after the defendant lied in wait or tortured the victim
  • Any killing that took place during the commission of a felony such as:
    • Arson
    • Robbery
    • Rape
    • Kidnapping

The sentence or penalties for first degree murder include:

  • 25 years in prison
  • Life in prison without the possibility of parole
  • Death

There are a few defenses to murder, such as:

  • Self-defense
  • Defense of another person
  • Insanity
  • Lack of premeditation

If you have a first-degree murder charge, your San Diego criminal defense attorney will try to get the charges reduced to second-degree murder or manslaughter.

Can Your San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney Represent You in a Second-Degree Murder Case?

Second-degree murder is not as serious as first-degree but it’s still a serious offense. California outlines the definition for second-degree murder in their penal statute 187. Under this statute, second-degree murder is basically any murder that doesn’t qualify as first-degree murder.

What this means is that if a prosecutor can’t prove any of the special circumstances outlined above, the charge must be that of second-degree.

The defenses available for second-degree murder are the same as for first-degree murder. The only difference is that there is a “heat of passion” defense for second-degree murder.

The penalties for second-degree murder different. They are as follows:

  • 15 years to life in state prison
  • 20 years to life in prison if you shot someone from a moving vehicle
  • This increases to 25 years to life if you killed a police officer
  • If the defendant has prior convictions for murder, he may receive a life sentence in prison without parole.

Call and Schedule a Consultation with a San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney

If you’ve been arrested for murder in San Diego, you will need to contact an experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney. It’s important that you have someone who knows the law by your side. It’s not something you want to handle yourself.

Your San Diego criminal defense attorney will work hard to get your charges reduced or dismissed. The difference between first-degree and second-degree murder is huge. Your San Diego criminal defense attorney can significantly reduce your sentence if he can convince the prosecutor to proceed with second-degree murder instead of first.