What Does the Prosecution Need to Prove in a 187 Homicide Case?
The prosecution is required to demonstrate specific elements for a conviction in a homicide case. Section 187 of the California Penal Code defines murder and lists the elements of the crime. For the defendant to be convicted, the prosecution must prove that they:
- Committed an act that caused the death of another person
- Killed without a lawful excuse or justification
- Acted with malice
The element of malice is perhaps the trickiest of the three. There are two kinds of malice – express malice and implied malice.
If the defendant acted with express malice, they intended to kill the victim. For example, if a man and woman are arguing at a party and the woman picks up a gun off the table and shoots the man, she would be found to have acted with express malice – she clearly intended to kill the victim.
Usually, a murder committed with express malice is charged as a first-degree murder. A conviction for first-degree murder can result in a prison sentence of 25 years to life.
When a murder is committed with implied malice, it is not intentional or premeditated. Rather, the defendant knew their actions constituted a “conscious disregard for human life” and proceeded anyway.
An example of murder with implied malice would be a person with a concealed carry weapons license brandishing a gun in a crowded nightclub. If the gun goes off and kills someone, the gun owner may face a charge of murder with implied malice.
Murder with implied malice is often charged as second-degree murder. If convicted, offenders face up to 15 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.
Besides second-degree murder, there is an additional 187 murder charge with the element of implied malice – Watson murder. A person is charged with Watson murder if they killed someone while driving under the influence, their behavior demonstrated a “wanton disregard” for human life, and they were especially aware of the risks created by their conduct.
Most commonly, a person is charged with Watson murder if they have a previous DUI conviction. The crime is also frequently charged if the defendant’s profession makes them especially familiar with the risks of DUI, such as a police officer, and the recklessness of the defendant’s behavior.
Watson murder is charged as second-degree murder and carries harsh penalties, including: 15 years to life in California state prison, a maximum fine of $10,000, and a strike on the defendant’s criminal record under California’s “Three Strikes” Law.
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Common Defenses to Homicide Charges
There are many possible factors that may come into a homicide defense, including:
- Self-defense: Many defendants claim they committed the deadly act out of fear for their safety. To claim self-defense, the defendant must show a reasonable fear of death or bodily harm and that the use of force was reasonable given the circumstances.
- Accidents: The defense may be able to show that the killing was an accident with no malice.
- Lack of evidence: In many cases, there is not enough evidence to prove what happened beyond a reasonable doubt. Often, defense attorneys are able to discredit witnesses and get certain evidence thrown out.
- Innocence: The defense may work to show that the defendant is innocent and point to someone else committing the crime.
- Insanity: A defendant may claim that they were in an abnormal cognitive state when they committed the homicide and could not understand the nature of the criminal act or why it was morally wrong.
In investigating your case, our team will work to determine every possible defense strategy that could help you.
Not all homicides are the same. California categorizes homicides by their nature, assigning each one a specific charge:
- Murder– California Penal Code 187
- Watson murder– California Penal Code 187
- Voluntary manslaughter— California Penal Code 192(a)
- Involuntary manslaughter– California Penal Code 192(b)
- Vehicular manslaughter– California Penal Code 192(c)
Homicide Conviction Penalties
The penalties for a homicide conviction vary tremendously, depending on the nature of the crime:
- First-degree/felony murder: 25 years to life in prison
- Second-degree murder: 15 years to life in prison
- Capital murder: Life in prison without parole or capital punishment
- Voluntary manslaughter: A maximum prison sentence of 11 years
- Involuntary manslaughter: A maximum prison sentence of 4 years
- Vehicular manslaughter: A maximum 1-year jail sentence for a misdemeanor or up to 6 years in prison for a felony