For most people, murder is the most serious crime you can commit. This is equally true in both the city of Los Angeles & Los Angeles County. The loss of a life is permanent and the potential consequences for a LA County murder conviction reflect that. A conviction for murder In LA can lead to a lifetime of incarceration; even those convicted of murder that are eventually released will face harsh consequences for the rest of their life. If you or a loved is facing charges of murder, contact experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney William S. Kroger immediately.
Murder Laws in LA County
California Penal Code § 187 defines murder as “the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.” Murder charges in LA don't apply to every loss of life or killing; the requirement of malice excludes accidents or recklessness.
In LA County, the killing of a person by another is known as a homicide. This includes everything from an unlawful killing to justifiable homicide. In other words, all murders are homicides but not all homicides are murders.
There are two different classifications for murder under California law: 1st degree murder and 2nd degree murder.
First-Degree Murder in Los Angeles County
Of the two classifications, first-degree murder is the more serious of the two. That's why unless very specific conditions are met, a murder will be charged in the second degree. According to California Penal Code §189, the four circumstances in which a charge of first degree murder is appropriate include:
- A killing by means of an explosive device, weapon of mass destruction, poison, or an armor-penetrating weapon;
- A killing by lying in wait, or through torture
- A killing that is willful, deliberate, and premeditated; or
- Felony murder
Under the felony murder rule, a killing that occurs during the commission of certain felonies can be charged as a 1st degree murder. This is the case even if the crime lacked the malice aforethought required in other murder charges.
Capital murder is any first-degree murder charge that is punishable by either the death penalty or a prison sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Also known as murder with special circumstances; capital murder is appropriate when any of the special circumstances outlined in California Penal Code § 190.2 are met. Some of those circumstances include:
- The murder was for financial game,
- The defendant was previously convicted of murder,
- The murder was committed by explosive device or bomb,
- The murder was omitted in order to avoid or prevent a lawful arrest, or
- The victim was a federal law enforcement officer or agent who was intentionally killed while engaging in the course of performance of their duties.
Second-Degree Murder in Los Angeles County
Second-degree murder still involves killing with malice but must lack any premeditation. As discussed above, any murder that does not qualify as murder in the first degree will be charged as murder in the second degree under California law.
-Murder vs. Manslaughter
Just because a killing doesn't rise to the level of murder doesn't mean it isn't criminal. Like murder, manslaughter is the unlawful killing of another person. However, manslaughter differs in that it doesn't involve malice aforethought. In other words, manslaughter is a killing without the intent to kill or seriously injure. Manslaughter is still a serious crime, even if falls short of the level of murder.
Potential Penalties for a Murder Conviction in Los Angeles County
Regardless of the classification, all murder charges are felonies in Los Angeles. In addition to the standard penalties for each murder charge, there are other factors that can further enhance those penalties.
First-Degree Murder in Los Angeles County
The penalty for first-degree murder is set out in California Penal Code § 190. According to the statute:
Every person guilty of murder in the first degree shall be punished by death, imprisonment in the state prison for life without the possibility of parole, or imprisonment in the state prison for a term of 25 years to life.
A prison term of 25 years to life allows for the possibility of parole after 25 years of the sentence is served. In contrast, life without the possibility of parole means there is no chance of early release.
While these penalties are the baseline for a first-degree murder conviction, there are two circumstances that can lead to harsher sentences. The first is a conviction for capital murder. The second is when first-degree murder involves a hate crime.
Capital Murder In Los Angeles County
Capital murder carries the most severe penalties of any crime in California. This is especially true for Los Angeles & LA county. Upon a conviction of capital murder, the only sentences available are:
- Death by gas or lethal injection; or
- Life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Hate Crimes in Los Angeles County
California law that applies to Los Angeles County has significant legal protections for members of certain protected classes. Those classes include:
- Race or ethnicity,
- Religion, or
- Sexual orientation.
For a murder charge to be enhanced by a hate crime designation, the prosecutor must prove not only that you committed a murder but also that you did so motivated in part by the fact the victim fell into one of the categories listed above.
A conviction for first-degree murder based on a hate crime enhancement carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. This differs from a standard conviction for first-degree murder in that the sentence of 25 years to life is not available.
Second Degree Murder in Los Angeles County
The penalty for a conviction for second-degree murder under California law is 15 years to life in state prison. However, there are a few ways in which that penalty can be enhanced. Those enhancements include:
- A defendant with a previous murder conviction will face life in prison without the possibility of parole
- A defendant convicted of murder from a drive-by shooting will be sentenced to 20 years to life
- If the victim is a peace officer, the sentence is enhanced to 25 years to life, and
- If the victim is a peace officer and the defendant intentionally killed the officer with a deadly weapon, the sentence is enhanced to life without the possibility of parole.
Potential Legal Defense Strategies
There is a wide range of potential defenses in a California murder case. Over the course of his career, William S. Kroger Attorney at Law has relied on a variety of these defenses. Some of the most common defenses used in a California murder case include:
Self-Defense / Defense of Others
Arguably the most common defense cited in a murder case is that a murder was necessary in order for the defendant to defend themselves or others from being killed, suffering great bodily injury, or from being raped, maimed, or robbed. Self defense is a valid defense against murder charges so long as the defendant's actions were reasonable.
While the insanity defense occupies more television courtrooms than real ones, it is nevertheless a legitimate defense in a murder trial. Remember, murder requires that a defendant acted with malice aforethought. An insanity defense argues that the defendant had a mental illness that rendered him unable to have the required mental state. A court will determine if a defendant was insane by examining:
- Whether the defendant understood the nature and quality of the act; and
- Whether the defendant can distinguish between right and wrong.
Accidental Killing in Los Angeles County
A killing is only murder if it was done with malice. For that reason, a true accidental killing lacks the necessary malice aforethought to qualify as a murder. It's important to note that an accidental killing that doesn't qualify as a murder can still be charged as a crime such as manslaughter. To successfully use a defense of accidental killing, a defendant must show:
- had no criminal intent to do harm,
- was not acting negligently, and
- was otherwise engaged in lawful activity at the time of the killing.
Illegal Search or Seizure in Los Angeles County
One of the strongest defenses available is the suppression of evidence collected illegally. Law enforcement cannot simply search a home or vehicle on a whim. If an officer conducts an illegal search in violation of a defendant's 4th Amendment rights, any evidence collected pursuant to that illegal search can be excluded at trial. This is one area where having a seasoned criminal defense attorney can make all the difference. An experienced attorney will have the skills to identify any illegal searches or seizures and then filing the necessary motion to suppress that evidence at trial. If the prosecutor's case is hampered enough due to suppressed evidence, the prosecutor may offer reduced charges or even dismiss the case entirely.
An Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney you can Trust In Los Angeles County
If you or a loved one has been charged with murder in LA County, William S. Kroger Attorney at Law is ready to help. A murder charge can cost you your freedom or your life. William S. Kroger understands the stakes, which is why he handles every case personally without handing them off to an associate. To discuss the merits of your case with an experienced LA County criminal defense attorney, contact William S. Kroger Attorney at Law for your free consultation.