What the Prosecution Must Prove in a 187 PC Homicide Case
Section 187 of the California Penal Code defines the crime of murder. For the defendant to be convicted, the prosecution must demonstrate each element of the crime with evidence. The law defines more than one kind of murder, but they all share the same three core elements:
- The defendant committed an act that caused the death of another person.
- The defendant acted with malice.
- The defendant killed without a justification.
There are three kinds of murder charged under 187 PC: first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and Watson murder.
When someone commits first-degree murder, they intentionally kill the victim. The killing is deliberate, premeditated, and executed with “express malice.”
A conviction for first-degree murder can result in a prison sentence of 25 years to life, life without parole, or capital punishment.
The nature of malice differentiates second-degree murder from first-degree murder. Second-degree murder does not require “express malice.” Rather, it only requires “implied malice.”
Implied malice does not require deliberation or pre-meditation. In fact, the defendant is not required to have the specific intention of killing the victim. An act is done with implied malice if it demonstrates a disregard for human life. In other words, the offender understands that an act could kill someone, but they proceed to do it anyway.
The penalties for second-degree murder in California include up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 maximum fine.
If a person kills someone while driving under the influence, they may be charged with Watson murder. Watson murder charges are brought if the driver’s conduct demonstrated a wanton disregard for life, and they were especially aware of the risks of drunk driving.
Prosecutors most commonly bring Watson charges if the defendant had a previous DUI. Every Californian who is convicted for DUI is required to sign a Watson admonition that states they may face murder charges if they kill someone while driving under the influence.
Watson murder carries the same penalties as second-degree murder: up to 15 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.
In addition to murder charges outlined under California Penal Code Section 187, homicides could be charged as:
- Voluntary manslaughter – California Penal Code Section 192(a)
- Involuntary manslaughter – California Penal Code Section 192(b)
- Vehicular manslaughter – California Penal Code Section 192(c)
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Common Defenses in Homicide Cases
At the Law Offices of Justin E. Sterling, our defense team will identify all the weaknesses in the prosecution’s case and craft a tailored defense based on the circumstances of your case.
Some of the common defenses to homicide include:
- Self-defense: If the defendant can show they had a reasonable fear of death or bodily harm, and their use of force was reasonable given the circumstances, they can claim self-defense.
- Defense of others: Defendants not only have the claim of self-defense available to them. They can also argue their actions were necessary to defend others.
- Accident: In some cases, defense attorneys may argue the death was accidental. The defendant may have lacked the intent required for certain homicide charges.
- Insanity: If the defendant was in an irregular state of mind and unable to appreciate the consequences of their actions and why they were morally wrong, they could claim insanity.
An experienced homicide defense attorney will explore every opportunity to argue for the charges against you to be reduced or dropped. If a plea deal is in your best interests, your defense attorney will negotiate for the minimum potential penalties.
Penalties for a Homicide Conviction
Homicides vary by the nature of the crime and the defendant’s state of mind. Accordingly, each type of homicide has its own charge and corresponding sentence.
- First-degree murder: 25 years to life in prison.
- Second-degree murder: 15 years to life in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.
- Capital murder: Life without parole or the death penalty.
- Voluntary manslaughter: Up to 11 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
- Involuntary manslaughter: 4 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
- Vehicular manslaughter: This may be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the nature of the crime and the defendant’s criminal record. A misdemeanor conviction may result in a 1-year maximum prison sentence. A felony conviction is penalized by up to 6 years in prison.