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Capital, First-, and Second-Degree Murder in California

Posted on in Criminal Defense

San Jose homicide and manslaughter defense lawyers, second degree murder, capital murder, first-degree murder,murder defense strategyIn California murder is defined under section 187 of the CA Penal Code as the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. However, in the eyes of the law, some murderers are more morally culpable than others and are consequently punished more severely for their crimes. For example, someone who murders another for financial gain is seen as being more morally culpable than someone who decides to kill their cheating spouse. Therefore, unlawful killings that are conducted with malice aforethought in California are divided into the following three different categories of murder: capital murder, first-degree murder, and second-degree murder.

Capital Murder

Capital murder (which is sometimes referred to as first-degree murder with special circumstances) encompasses only the most egregious murders committed in California. The various types of killings that can qualify as capital murder in California are listed in section 190.2 of the CA Penal Code and include, but are not limited to:

  • Murder for financial gain,
  • Murder by drive-by,
  • Murdering a police officer, judge, or elected official,
  • Murdering a victim based on their race, religion, or country of origin,
  • Murdering a witness to prevent them from testifying, and
  • Murdering multiple victims.

Punishment: An individual convicted of capital murder in California can be either sentenced to death or to serve a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole.

First-Degree Murder

First-degree murder, which is seen as a step down from capital murder but as a more serious offense than second-degree murder, can be committed in California in any of the following three ways:

  1. Committing a murder (1) via an explosive device, poison, a weapon of mass destruction, or especially destructive ammunition, or (2) after lying in wait for the victim or torturing the victim.
  2. Committing a murder that is deliberate, willful, and premeditated.
  3. Killing someone while committing one of the felonies listed in the felony murder statute (for example, arson, burglary, kidnapping, etc.).

Punishment: Generally speaking, an offender who is convicted of first-degree murder in California will face a prison sentence of 25 years to life. However, if a first-degree murder conviction is based on a hate crime then the offender may be sentenced to serve life without the possibility of parole.

Second-Degree Murder 

In a nutshell, second-degree murder in California is a sort of catchall offense that encompasses any murder that is committed willfully (but not deliberately or with premeditation) that does not constitute a first-degree murder and that is not mitigated down to manslaughter.

Punishment: The punishment for second-degree murder in California is generally a prison sentence of 15 years to life; however, a harsher sentence may be imposed if aggravating circumstances are present.

Reach Out to Us for Help 

If you have been accused of murder in Northern California contact Jachimowicz Law Group right away. One of our experienced San Jose homicide and manslaughter defense lawyers would be happy to sit down with you during a free initial consultation and discuss your legal options.








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