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Lying in Wait Murder

Lying in Wait Murder in California

A “lying in wait” murder in California refers to a situation where someone waits for their victim to attack and kill them. This is a type of Penal Code 187 PC first-degree murder with aggravating factors (special circumstances) making the penalties more severe, including capital punishment. PC 187 (a) defines murder as the "unlawful killing of a human being or a fetus with malice aforethought."

Notably, however, to prove a lying-in-wait murder case, the prosecutor must prove several factors, such as you intentionally concealed yourself from the person you killed and that you waited for a chance to act.

Lying in Wait Murder in California
A “lying in wait” murder means a situation where someone waits for their victim to attack and kill them.

The prosecutor must also prove that you made a surprise attack and acted with a specific intent to kill the victim. Penal Code 189 PC makes lying in wait and other forms a type of first-degree murder in California.

PC 189 says, “(a) All murder that is perpetrated by means of a destructive device or explosive, a weapon of mass destruction, knowing use of ammunition designed primarily to penetrate metal or armor, poison, lying in wait, torture, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing, or that is committed in the perpetration of, or attempt to perpetrate, arson, rape, carjacking, robbery, burglary, mayhem, kidnapping, train wrecking, or any act punishable under Section 206, 286, 287, 288, or 289, or former Section 288a, or murder that is perpetrated by means of discharging a firearm from a motor vehicle, intentionally at another person outside of the vehicle with the intent to inflict death, is a murder of the first degree.

(b) All other kinds of murders are of the second degree.

(d) To prove the killing was “deliberate and premeditated,” it is not necessary to prove the defendant maturely and meaningfully reflected upon the gravity of the defendant's act.

(e) A participant in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of a felony listed in subdivision (a) in which a death occurs is liable for murder only if one of the following is proven:

(1) The person was the actual killer.

(2) The person was not the actual killer but with the intent to kill, aided, abetted, counseled, commanded, induced, solicited, requested, or assisted the actual killer in the commission of murder in the first degree.

(3) The person was a major participant in the underlying felony and acted recklessly indifferent to human life, as described in subdivision (d) of Section 190.2.

(f) Subdivision (e) does not apply to a defendant when the victim is a peace officer who was killed during the peace officer's duties, where the defendant knew or reasonably should have known that the victim was a peace officer engaged in the performance of the peace officer's duties.

What Is "Lying in Wait?”

Lying in wait for murder means waiting for the victim to kill them in an ambush-style. As noted, prosecutors must prove all the “elements of the crime,” including:

  • You concealed yourself from the victim,
  • You waited and watched for an opportunity to act,
  • You made a surprise attack on the victim, and
  • You  Acted with specific intent. 

Legally defined, "lying in wait" means to intentionally hide or wait for a chance to ambush a victim intending to cause their death. In other words, it's premeditated and planned and shows high malice and intent. In many lying-in-wait murder cases, the term “concealment of purpose” is commonly used.

Prosecutors can prove this crucial factor by demonstrating that you deliberately concealed yourself from the victim with the specific purpose of committing the murder. You can hide your purpose even if the victim knows about your physical presence. The concealment of purpose is a required factor for a lying-in-wait crime.

When prosecutors make the lying-in-wait argument, it means they are attempting to demonstrate that the crime was premeditated and committed with high planning and deliberation. This is considered an aggravating factor, making it a first-degree murder that carries the possibility of life imprisonment without parole or even the death penalty. 

How Can Prosecutors Demonstrate Lying in Wait? 

Lying in wait does not have to be a specific length of time, but the duration must be substantial and show there was deliberation or premeditation.  

Deliberation” means someone carefully weighed all the factors and committed the act, knowing its consequences. “Premeditation” means the decision to commit the act was made before it was done. Prosecutors must demonstrate the following factors: 

  • Concealment of purpose means concealing your intent to murder the victim. It means they were unaware of your malicious intent and were vulnerable.
  • Watching and waiting means spending a substantial amount of time looking for a chance to commit the murder. As noted, the law does not define “substantial,” but it means long enough to show you had enough opportunity to reconsider your actions.
  • Surprise lethal attack means after the victim arrives or becomes vulnerable, you then launch a deadly assault without giving them a chance to defend themselves or escape from the scene.
  • Willful intent means that your actions were explicit to enable you to commit murder.

What Type of Evidence Can Prove Lying in Wait?

To prove these crucial elements of the crime listed above, the prosecution will typically present evidence that supports their argument of lying in wait murder, such as the following:

  • Eyewitness testimony from people who observed your actions before the murder occurred.
  • Physical evidence that was used to hide or conceal your presence.
  • Surveillance footage that shows your behavior leading up to the murder.
  • Expert testimony from profilers or forensic specialists that offer their opinion on your mindset and motivations.

Notably, Governor Newsom imposed a moratorium on executions in the State of California, and Los Angeles County no longer pursues the death penalty in its murder cases.

What Are the Common Defenses? 

Suppose you are charged with lying in wait murder. In that case, our California criminal defense attorneys can use several strategies to challenge the allegations, such as the following: 

  • All the elements of the crime were not proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • There was no premeditation or deliberation.
  • You were coerced into confessing by the police.

Maybe we can argue that there was a lack of premeditation or planning. Perhaps your actions were spontaneous, and you were not lying in wait for the victim.

Maybe we can challenge the crucial concealment factor. Perhaps we can argue you were not waiting and hiding to ambush the victim. Maybe there was no surprise because they knew why they were there and had a chance to defend themselves.

Maybe we argue that you were coerced to confess by overzealous police detectives.  Perhaps we can show police misconduct through unlawful means to obtain a confession regarding lying in wait or committing murder. If successful, your confession might be inadmissible in court. Contact our law firm for more information or a free case evaluation. Cron, Israels & Stark is based in Los Angeles, CA. 

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