Murder is the most serious charge that can be brought against an accused individual in a court of law. The potential sentences can lead up to and including the capital sentence or the death penalty. Murder cases are quite complex and require a great deal of preparation, experience and litigation. In general terms the California Penal Code in its famed section 187 describes murder as “the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.”
The following is a simplified short version of the law of murder in California. Because the law is so complex and each case is different it is always advised that you or your loved one speak to an attorney that is qualified to handle such serious cases.
Malice aforethought is the name of what has traditionally been thought of as the mental state required to be guilty of the criminal charge of murder.
According to Penal Code Section 188 and California Jury Instruction (CalCrim) 520, there are two kinds of malice aforethought: express and implied.
Either express or implied malice are sufficient for the charge of murder. Express malice is fairly straight forward and exists if the accused unlawfully intended to kill another human being. Implied malice only exists if four separate requirements are met:
- the accused did an act on purpose,
- the natural consequences of such an act are dangerous to human life,
- the accused knew that such act was dangerous to human life, AND
- the accused acted with conscious disregard for human life.
Malice aforethought does not require a motive to kill or even a dislike or hatred of the deceased person. The only requirement is that the mental state must exist at the time the act that causes the death is committed.
It is of note that in order for someone to be guilty of murder, the accused’ act does not have to be the single cause of death. Someone could be found guilty of murder if the act is a substantial cause of the victim’s death.
The last element of murder as outlined in the California Criminal Jury Instructions is that the accused killed without lawful excuse or justification. This element goes specifically to defenses to murder. An accused cannot be found guilty of murder if there was an excuse or a justification recognized in the law. The most common defense in this situation is self defense.
There are many other aspects of the law of murder such as when someone can be charged with murder even though they did not personally hurt or kill another person. To confidentially discuss the particularities of your loved one’s case call our office today.
Sacramento defense attorney Richard Chan gives each case the attention it deserves. If a loved one has been accused of murder they need the best representation possible. Call our Sacramento attorneys for a confidential case evaluation.