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Home blog Criminal Defense Understanding a California Homicide Charge

Understanding a California Homicide Charge

By Michael Guisti on November 26, 2020

The terms murder, manslaughter, and homicide are often used interchangeably, but there are important differences between each of them under the law. These differences can range from the intent behind your actions to the circumstances of a victim’s death. In fact, these differences could be vital to avoiding a life sentence in California.

The Different Types of Homicide

Homicide is a catchall term used for the killing of another person. This can either be lawful, as with the case of the death penalty, or unlawful, such as with manslaughter and murder. In the state of California, homicide in the criminal justice system is often divided between manslaughter and murder, both of which involve lengthy prison sentences, hefty fines, and massive repercussions for your life.

The key difference between manslaughter and murder is intent. Under Penal Coe 192, manslaughter is the unintentional killing of another person, often through an act of negligence, reckless behavior, or inaction. In contrast, murder is the intentional killing of someone else through malice aforethought according to Penal Code 187 PC. Malice aforethought essentially means that you planned to take someone else’s life and is often referred to as premedication.

But these are not the only ways that manslaughter and murder are defined in California. In fact, there are several different manslaughter and murder charges based on the nature of the crime.

What Are the Three Types of Manslaughter Charges?

For one, while manslaughter does not involve intent, it can be categorized as voluntary or involuntary. Voluntary manslaughter means that you may have been involved in a fight or argument that led to a violent exchange and someone else’s death. Under this definition, you may not have intended to kill someone, but you did intend to cause bodily harm.

Involuntary manslaughter, in contrast, typically involves a reckless, negligent, or careless act that led to someone’s death. While there was no intent to cause harm or death, you may have taken actions that were very likely to cause death.

When manslaughter involves an auto vehicle, it can be charged as vehicular manslaughter. Vehicular manslaughter typically involves some form of reckless driving, such as a DUI, speeding, dangerous lane changes, or other negligent acts. Unlike the other two charges, which are felonies, vehicular manslaughter can be charged as a wobbler, meaning it is a misdemeanor or felony.

What Are the Degrees to Murder?

Like manslaughter, murder can be divided into different categories, or degrees, depending on the severity of the crime. While both first- and second-degree murder involve intentionally killing someone, first-degree must involve premeditation. If you did not plan on committing murder and it was not deliberate, then you can only be charged with second-degree murder.

There is also capital murder, which is the most serious charge you can face. Capital murder is often referred to as first-degree murder with special circumstances that can include 20 different scenarios, including:

  • More than one victim
  • Financial gain
  • Killing of a police officer, firefighter, prosecutor, judge, juror, elected official, or witness
  • Killing based on race, religion, nationality, or country of origin
  • Gang violence
  • Other intentions

Can a Murder Charge Be Reduced to Manslaughter?

Because the difference between manslaughter and murder can come down to intent, your attorney may be able to have your charges reduced by proving that you had no intent to kill the victim. This would significantly decrease your prison sentence and give you a higher chance of receiving parole, but if your attorney can build a strong enough defense, you may be able to avoid prison time altogether.

Can a Charge be Elevated to Murder?

While murder charges can be reduced to manslaughter, there are also ways for felony crimes to be charged as first- or second-degree murder due to the Felony-Murder Rule. Officially made law in 2018 with California Senate Bill 1437, this rule states that if a defendant kills someone while committing a felony crime, such as a burglary or armed robbery, can be charged with first or second-degree felony-murder. The difference between the two degrees under this rule will depend on the nature of the crime.

In the court’s eyes, a defendant who directly causes someone’s death while committing specific felony crimes can be charged with first-degree felony-murder. However, with second-degree felony-murder, there is not list the court goes off of. Instead, if the prosecution can show that the felony crime you committed had a high chance of causing death, then you can face second-degree felony murder charges.

Both charges are extremely serious; however, there are also specific defense strategies your attorney can use to keep you from going to prison. Based on the Felony-Murder Rule, the prosecution must first prove that you committed a felony crime and then that the crime led to someone’s death. If your attorney can prove you did not commit a felony or that the death was unrelated, you could not be charged under this rule.

But to beat any homicide charge, you first need to contact a skilled and experienced Orange County violent crimes defense attorney. Your best option is to contact Law Office of Michael L. Guisti. With over 20 years of experience, our legal team has extensive experience defending clients in murder trials and can fight tooth and nail to keep you out of prison or have your charges reduced. If you or someone you love are facing homicide charges in Orange County, contact our office at (714) 530-9690 or toll-free at (888) 478-8999 and schedule a free consultation.

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