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Penal Code 187 PC - California Murder Law

California Penal Code 187 PC defines the crime of murder as “the unlawful killing of a human being or fetus with malice aforethought.” Under California law, murder is classified as first-degree and second-degree.

First-degree murder includes all premeditated (planned) killings, as well as felony murder, where somebody is killed during the commission of a robbery, carjacking, rape, or other serious crime. If convicted of first-degree murder, you could face 25 years to life in prison, but there are enhanced penalties (life in prison without parole) if the killing involved lying in wait, torture, destructive device, or other special circumstances.

Murder Law in California - Penal Code 187 PC
PC 187 murder is defined as the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought.

PC 187 second-degree murder involves no premeditation, and a conviction carries a sentence of 15 years to life in state prison. Penal Code 192(a) PC voluntary manslaughter is a less serious form of homicide than murder. It includes unplanned, heat-of-passion killings and carries up to 11 years in prison if convicted.

In the area of violent crimes, the act of murder under California Penal Code 187 PC is perhaps the most significant and serious crime anyone can be accused and charged with. Whether deliberately or by a dreadful mistake, the action of taking another individual's life is prosecuted and punished forcefully, with your life being on the line.

You need to immediately contact a criminal defense attorney, as a conviction of murder in the State of California can send you to prison for the rest of your life. The charge of murder falls under different categories, such as premeditated or first-degree murder, second-degree murder, not considered intentional, and a lawful killing, such as an act by yourself in a serious or life-threatening situation.

What Is Express and Implied Malice? 

As noted in Penal Code 187(a), murder is defined as the "unlawful killing" of a human being or a fetus with malice aforethought. A homicide is killing someone, whether lawful or unlawful, and includes murder, manslaughter, and killings that are justified.

Murder is a form of homicide and, of course, always illegal. It's different from manslaughter because it requires malice. Malice can be understood in two ways, including express and implied

  • Express malice murders included killings where someone intended to cause death or grievous bodily harm to another person. 
  • Implied malice includes killings occurring while the person was committing a felony, called "felony murder," resulting from an action displaying a depraved indifference to human life (depraved heart murder).  

Both first and second-degree murder require malice. Malice may be express or implied. Simply put, express malice means intending to kill the victim, and implied malice is the killing from an intentional act where the natural consequences are dangerous to human life, and the killer knew it was a danger and acted with a conscious disregard for human life.

What are the Degrees of Murder in California?

The degrees of murder are defined under Penal Code 189 PC. California only recognizes two degrees of murder: first-degree and second-degree. Killings that fall beneath the threshold of "malice aforethought" are classified as voluntary, involuntary, or vehicular manslaughter (Penal Code 192 PC) rather than lesser degrees of murder.

PC 189 says, “All murder perpetrated using a destructive device or explosive, a weapon of mass destruction, use of ammunition designed to penetrate metal or armor, poison, lying in wait, torture, or another willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing, or committed to perpetrating, arson, rape, carjacking, robbery, burglary, mayhem, kidnapping, train wrecking, or any act under Section 206, 286, 288, 288a, or 289, or murder perpetrated by use of discharging a firearm from a motor vehicle, intentionally at someone with the intent to inflict death, is the murder of the first degree. All other kinds of murders are of the second degree.

First-Degree Murder

Thus, to be convicted of first-degree murder under California law, one of the following must be proven:

  • Use of destructive device or explosive, a weapon of mass destruction, ammunition to penetrate metal or armor, or poison.
  • By lying in wait.
  • By inflicting Penal Code 206 PC torture.
  • By a willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing, or
  • Killing somebody while committing certain felonies, called felony murder. 

Second-Degree Murder

PC 187 second-degree murder is also willful, but it's not deliberate there is no premeditation (planned). Simply put, second-degree murder is any murder that is not deemed a first-degree murder. For example, a "Watson murder" is when someone is driving under the influence (DUI), causes an accident, and someone is killed. 

Capital Murder

Capital murder is first-degree murder with special circumstances that are punishable by capital punishment (death penalty) or life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOP). Capital murder can be charged in different circumstances defined by California Penal Code 190.2 PC, such as the killing: 

  • More than one person,
  • A police officer, firefighter, prosecutor, judge, juror, or elected official,
  • A witness to prevent giving testimony.
  • Due to the victim's race, color, religion, or nationality, 
  • For a financial gain,
  • Gang-related (Penal Code 186.22 PC),
  • Drive-by shooting

Felony Murder Rule 

A felony murder is killing someone in the commission of a dangerous felony, and it applies to first and second-degree murder. For example, suppose somebody is attempting to commit robbery at a local convenience store and shoots the cashier when they resist. Penal Code 211 PC robbery is a felony, and shooting the cashier and them is murder. It does not matter if they intended to kill them.

The first-degree felony-murder rule applies during the commission of several crimes, such as Penal Code 451 PC arson, Penal Code 459 PC burglary, Penal Code 215 PC carjacking, Penal Code 207 PC kidnapping, and Penal Code 261 PC rape.

What Are the Penalties for PC 187?

In California, the penalties for a PC 187 murder conviction will depend on the degree, such as first-degree murder, second-degree murder, or capital murder:

  • First-degree murder carries 25 years to life in state prison, but a hate crime carries life without the possibility of parole.
  • Second-degree murder carries 15 years to life in state prison but could be increased under certain circumstances. 
  • Capital murder carries life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty, which has a temporary moratorium.  

Thus, the standard penalties for a murder conviction range from 15 years to life in prison. However, the California murder law also carries potential additional penalties, such as the following:

  • California's 10-20-Life, “Use a Gun and You're Done” law, which lists mandatory minimum prison sentences if you use a firearm during specific violent felony crimes.
  • A “strike” under California's three-strikes law.
  • Sentencing enhancements if the crime is gang-related.
  • A fine of up to $10,000.
  • Victim restitution.
  • Loss of gun rights. 

What Are Related Laws?

Several California statutes are related to California Penal Code 187 PC murder. This means that it could be charged in addition to, or instead of murder, including the following:

What Are the Common Defenses for PC 187? 

With your freedom and possibly your life at stake, having a skilled criminal defense lawyer on your side is crucial. The law firm of Cron, Israels & Stark will give you unequaled legal representation in fighting a murder charge that has been leveled against you. There are some common defenses for murder and attempted murder charges.

California self-defense laws allow you to protect yourself in certain situations. Killing is justified under the homicide law when you reasonably believe you or others are in imminent danger of being killed, suffering a great bodily injury, or being raped, robbed, or victims of some other forcible crime.

Perhaps we can argue the killing was an accident. Perhaps you had no criminal intent to do harm, were not acting negligently, and were engaged in lawful activity at the time of the killing.

Defenses for California Penal Code 187 PC Murder
Contact our law firm for legal advice.

Perhaps we can argue there was a false and coerced confession. Police are required to follow proper Miranda and constitutional protections. Coercing someone is unlawful and often includes making threats against the suspect or offering them leniency for a confession. Perhaps we can argue there was an illegal search and seizure.

Perhaps we can argue you are the victim of a false allegation or mistaken identification. Our initial free consultation allows you to come in and discuss all your legal options in a non-stressful environment. 

If you have been arrested and are now facing criminal charges for murder, you have the right to speak to your legal counsel first. You do not need to discuss anything with the police; it is in your best interest not to do so. The best defense is started as early as possible, and with factors such as evidence collection and how it was handled, all charges could be dropped against you.

Building a strong defense on your behalf is essential, especially if you are not guilty of the charges. You have options; find out what they are by contacting our law firm. We handle criminal cases in Los Angeles County, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, and Ventura County.

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