Few criminal offenses carry with them the potential penalties that murder does in the State of California. In fact, capital murder can result in the death penalty in California, clearly the harshest possible penalty available. If you have been charged with murder in California your first question will likely be “Are there defenses to murder in California?” The good news is that yes, there are a number of commonly used defenses to murder. Whether or not any of those defenses apply in your case is something that can only be determined by an experienced California criminal defense attorney after careful review of your case. You may feel better, however, knowing some of the more commonly used defenses. Including, but not limited to:
- Mistaken identity or “I didn’t do it” – This is simple enough to explain. This defense claims that you did not cause the death of the victim. This could mean that you are claiming someone mistakenly identified you as the perpetrator but you were nowhere near the scene of the killing or that you were there at the time of the killing but that you did not cause the death.
- Self-defense – This defense requires you to admit to causing the death of the victim but claims that you were forced to kill because the victim was threatening serious bodily harm or death to you.
- Defense of others – This is the same as self-defense except you claim that someone else was at risk of serious harm or death from the victim.
- Accident – This defense also requires you to admit that you caused the death of the victim; however, unlike self-defense you are alleging that you had no intention of harming the victim.
- Insanity or lack of capacity – To be convicted of murder, as opposed to other offenses that relate to the killing of another human being, you must have the requisite “means rea,” or state of mind. First degree murder in California, for example, requires you to have willfully, or intentionally, caused the death of the victim. Claiming insanity means you are asserting that you did not understand the nature of the act or that you did not understand right from wrong.
- Illegal search, coerced confessions, tainted chain of custody and other police conduct – Sometimes the evidence gathered by law enforcement can be attacked because it was obtained illegally or not properly handled after discovery. Evidence obtained as a result of an illegal search and seizure, for example, may be excluded from trial, effectively providing you with a defense.
Because of the unique nature of a murder prosecution it is essential that you consult with an experienced California criminal defense attorney to discuss which defenses may be available to you if you have been charged with murder, or you are a suspect in a murder case, in California.