- First Degree Murder
- Second Degree Murder
- Attempted Murder
- Voluntary Manslaughter
- Involuntary Manslaughter
- Vehicular Manslaughter
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Homicide | Murder, Attempted Murder, and Manslaughter
Homicide is defined as “the killing of a human being by another human being.” Homicide becomes criminal when it is committed without justification or excuse.
Common defenses to murder in California include the following:
• Defense of another
• Imperfect self-defense
• Heat of passion
• Eyewitness misidentification
• False confession
• Falsely accused
• Insanity defense
• Diminished capacity
Experienced Murder Defense Attorney
Los Angeles murder and attempted murder defense attorney Debra S. White understands that the life of her clients rest in her hands. She takes that responsibility very seriously by fighting for her clients with unrelenting determination and passion.
Ms. White has saved clients charged with murder and attempted murder from serving life in prison, and has obtained dismissals despite overwhelming obstacles and odds. In one such case, Ms. White defended a man falsely accused of attempted murder, torture, rape, kidnap, and burglary in Ventura, California. He faced five-consecutive live sentences. The detective initially assigned to the case disclosed to media that it was the worst crime he had seen in his 19 years of experience. Ms. White and her team of experts, which included her sister, a private investigator, forced a dismissal of the case within several months. This case was featured in two editions of the Los Angeles Times. To learn more about this case, read the Los Angeles Times article.
What is the Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter?
The primary difference between murder and manslaughter has to do with the intent of the accused. To be convicted of murder, a prosecutor must prove, among other elements of the crime, that the accused had the “intent to kill” AND that they killed with “malice aforethought”.
Malice aforethought exists if the accused either, 1) unlawfully intended to kill, i.e., there is no justification of excuse, or 2) they committed an act that is known to be dangerous to human life and consciously disregarded human life by their actions. For example, shooting into a building knowing there could be people inside.
In California, murder is divided into degrees, called first degree murder and second degree murder.
Manslaughter, unlike murder, occurs when the killing is without malice aforethought. In California, manslaughter it is divided into three different categories, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, and vehicular manslaughter.
Below is a list of the primary differences between murder and manslaughter. This list is not inclusive of all the legal elements involved for analysis and is intended for a general understanding only.
First Degree Murder
An unlawful killing with malice aforethought that is “willful, premeditated, and deliberate.”
Punishable by a minimum of 25 to life in prison. Death by execution is possible depending on specific circumstances about the crime, called capital crimes.
Second Degree MurderAn unlawful killing with malice aforethought but without premeditated or deliberation. For example, if a person intended to commit only serious bodily injury, or committed an extremely reckless act and someone died as a result of that act, they could be charged with second degree murder.
Punishable by a minimum of 15 to life in prison.
NOTE: The Felony Murder Rule:
A person can be charged with murder in the first degree if the killing occurred during the commission of any felony. The murder will be charged as first degree if the felony is serious such as burglary, arson, rape, and robbery. Otherwise, the murder will be charged as second degree murder. Also, a person can be charged with murder if an accomplice or coconspirator kills someone during the commission of a felony even if they were not involved in that killing other than participating in the underlying felony.
To prove that someone is guilty of attempted murder, the prosecutor must prove the following:
1) The defendant took some “direct step” toward the act of killing. This means more than mere planning and preparation, but some immediate step that puts the plan into motion; something that shows a definite and unambiguous intent to kill, but that step was ineffective toward killing the person, and;
2) The defendant “specifically intended” to kill that person.
Attempted murder can be charged under a first degree murder theory or second degree murder theory.
The punishment for first degree attempted murder is life in prison with the possibility of parole. Under this charge, the prosecutor must prove that the attempt to kill was willful, premeditated, and deliberate, as required under a first degree murder theory.
The punishment for second degree attempted murder, all other is charged under a second degree murder theory, the punishment is 5, 7 or 9 years.
In California, there are three different types of manslaughter crimes: Voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, and vehicular manslaughter.
A person can be charged or found guilty of voluntary manslaughter when there is an excuse to murder based on one or both of the following scenarios:
a) Heat of Passion. An intentional killing that is ordinarily murder, but is committed in the “sudden heat of passion.”
b) Imperfect self-defense. An intentional killing that is ordinarily murder but the defendant had an honest but unreasonable belief in the need to use deadly force to defend himself or defend another.
Voluntary Manslaughter is punishable by 3, 6 or 11 years in prison.
Involuntary manslaughter is a killing that is the result of “criminal negligence” or the result of an unlawful act that posed a high risk of death or bodily injury in the way it was committed.
Involuntary Manslaughter is punishable by 2, 3, or 4 years in prison.
a) Vehicle Manslaughter Involving Ordinary Negligence.
While driving a vehicle, a person commits an unlawful act that is not a felony (eg, misdemeanor speeding) or an act that might produce death, but without gross negligence.
Punishable as a misdemeanor up to one year in jail.
b) Vehicle Manslaughter Involving Gross Negligence.
While driving a vehicle, a person commits an unlawful act that is not a felony (eg, misdemeanor speeding) or an act that might produce death, but with gross negligence.
Punishable as a misdemeanor or a felony for up to 6 years in prison.
c) Vehicle Manslaughter Involving Alcohol.
A person drove drunk, or above the legal limit, and, while driving, that person committed an infraction or misdemeanor (or lawful act that might cause death), and they committed that act with ordinary negligence.
Punishable as a misdemeanor or as a felony for up to 4 years in prison.
d) Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated.
A person drove drunk, or above the legal limit, and, while driving, that person committed an infraction or misdemeanor (or lawful act that might cause death), and they committed that act with gross negligence.
Punishable for 4, 6, or 10 years in prison. If the defendant has a prior conviction for DUI, they face 15 years to life in prison and can be charged with murder.
How To Find The Right Criminal Defense Attorney
Hiring the right criminal defense attorney will make all the difference in the outcome of any criminal case. And when the stakes are as high as they are when someone is charged murder, attempted murder, or manslaughter, hiring the right lawyer is the most important decision that can be made for the life of the accused.
Know The Lawyer You Hire
Ms. White recommends that when you take the following steps to ensure that you hire the right criminal defense lawyer:
When you contact a lawyer’s office, be careful of any legal advice from a non-lawyer.
Ask for a consultation from the lawyer who will take the case before retaining their services. Most criminal defense lawyers offer free initial consultations.
Meet with the attorney you intend to hire in person.
Make sure that the lawyer you hire is the same person who will actually represent you and not an associate you have never met.
Do your homework. Research the attorney. Are they are legally licensed to practice law in California? The State Bar of California will tell you if there has been any disciplinary action against the attorney.
Check for any reviews about the attorney. What do others have to say about this attorney? Beware of fake testimonials and Internet marketing!
Interview the attorney. How long have they been a criminal defense lawyer? Where did they go to law school? What is their experience in handling these types of cases? Do they have any trial experience with cases of this nature? What is their success rate? Are they available to take your case? Will someone else work on the case? What can you or your loved one expect from them if they take the case?
Is it better to hire an attorney who is a former prosecutor? It is a misconception that former prosecutors make better defense attorneys. An experienced criminal defense attorney usually has more experience dealing with prosecutors and Judges in more courthouses than a former prosecutor who usually works in one office and one courthouse or courtroom. Moreover, attorneys who become prosecutors are usually pro-prosecution, and not defense-oriented. When a prosecutor decides to "switch sides" are they doing it because they are true defenders who want to fight for the rights of the accused? It is our experience that the best criminal defense attorneys have not only extensive legal knowledge, experience, and skill that is required to effectively and successfully represent a criminal defendant but are defense-minded people who are truly compassionate about helping their clients and zealously defending their rights.
The lawyer you hire does make a difference.
Contact Ms. White today for a free initial confidential consultation at 818-609-1800. We are available to take your call 24/7.