Your night on the town suddenly turned horrible and tragic. You never expected to end up in a fight at the bar, and you certainly never thought that landing a single punch to someone’s head could kill someone. Unfortunately, the guy that you hit had a weak blood vessel in his neck, so he suffered bleeding in his brain and died.

Now, you’re facing charges of second-degree murder. What does that mean?

In California, this is the most serious charge associated with a homicide that you can face short of first-degree murder. Those are reserved for situations where a killing was premeditated, occurred during a felony act, or the result of an explosive device or another weapon of mass destruction.

If you’re convicted of second-degree murder, you can generally expect to spend a minimum of 15 years in prison — and you can be sentenced to life imprisonment. Your sentence can also be enhanced due to various circumstances associated with the crime, such as if the victim was a peace officer, or if you have a previous conviction.

No matter what happened to bring you to this point, it’s important to have an experienced attorney’s assistance as you move forward. You may have various defenses available to you that call for the charges to be dismissed or an acquittal at trial. For example, you may have been acting in self-defense. It may also be possible to show that you were provoked, and that some kind of manslaughter charges (which are far less serious) are more appropriate for an action that occurred in “the heat of the moment.”