Defending Murder and Manslaughter Cases: High Stakes
The stakes are high in murder cases – recent changes in the law have all but made it impossible to parole in cases involving a conviction for first or second degree murder. Even when these cases do not take years to investigate, the law enforcement reports are always voluminous, and, depending on the type of allegations, there may be dozens of witnesses or more. A murder attorney may need assistance from forensic investigators and other outside consultants in order to zealously defend the charges.
Ultimately, the defendant is fighting for his or her life.
Overcoming Challenges: Where Experience and Intelligence Help
The difficulties in defending a murder case are many. One principal difficulty involves the fact that the prosecution does not have to specify exactly how they intend to prove a murder charge. In California, the bare allegation of murder is generally sufficient to put the defense on notice of what the prosecution is attempting to prove. But there are many different types of first and second degree murder, and a murder attorney is required to anticipate and defend against multiple murder theories in any one case.
Another difficulty with murder cases involves being sure that the prosecution has provided all relevant information to the defense, including Brady evidence (exculpatory information), and conducting a defense investigation without interference from or law enforcement. For example, the defense has a right to issue subpoenas to persons for the production of information to court that may assist in the defense of murder charges without alerting the prosecution as to what exactly is being sought by the defense. The defense also has a right to retest evidence gathered by law enforcement without necessarily providing results of the testing to the prosecution. However, as a practical matter, subpoenaing information and retesting evidence may be difficult to conduct without the prosecution knowing what type of defense is under consideration by the attorney. Tactical and strategic considerations therefore may play a large role in these matters.
Accordingly, the defense of murder charges requires an experienced murder attorney who has not only handled these matters in the past but has the ability to provide a vigorous, intelligent defense; in other words, the attorney must have clear and concise objectives behind each and every strategic and tactical decision made on behalf of the client. The attorney must have an understanding of how his or her decisions made early in the case will advantage or disadvantage the client’s matter later in the case.
This office provides a comprehensive consultation to those seeking to hire a murder attorney to defend murder or manslaughter charges.
Murder and Manslaughter Defined
The precise scope of allegations leading to a murder or manslaughter conviction is beyond the scope of this web site. Generally, murder and manslaughter is defined as follows:
Murder (PC 187)
Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.
Malice aforethought is a specific mental state that the prosecution must prove to convict a defendant of murder. Generally this requires a showing that the defendant willfully acted, knowing that the natural consequences of the act would be dangerous to human life. However, malice aforethought can also be established by showing that the circumstances surrounding the killing demonstrate the killer had an abandoned and malignant heart when undertaking the action to kill.
Murder is divided into two degrees of severity: first degree and second degree. The punishment for each degree varies depending on the circumstances of the killing; however, first degree murder generally is punished comparatively more harshly. First degree murder is punishable by either death, life in prison, or a term of twenty-five years to life in prison; whereas, second degree murder can be punished by a term of fifteen years to life in prison.
First degree murder can be established if the killing was done using explosives, a weapon of mass destruction, armor piercing ammunition, a firearm discharged from an automobile or poison. First degree murder can also properly be charged in instances where the killer was lying in wait for the victim, or tortured the victim, or if the murder was otherwise willful, deliberate and premeditated. Finally, first degree murder can be established if the killing took place during the commission or attempted commission of certain crimes. All other kinds of murders are second degree murders.
Manslaughter (PC 192)
Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of another human; however, it is different from murder because the prosecution is not required to prove that the killer acted with malice. Under California law there are three types of manslaughter: voluntary, involuntary, and vehicular. Voluntary manslaughter is defined as a killing that occurs in the heat of passion as the result a sudden quarrel. Involuntary manslaughter is a killing that occurs during the commission of an unlawful act that is not a felony, or a killing that results from a lack of caution and prudence. However, when a negligent killing is the result of a traffic accident it can be charged as vehicular manslaughter.
The punishments for the different types of manslaughter differ greatly. Voluntary manslaughter is a felony and can be punished by a three, six, or eleven year prison sentence. Involuntary manslaughter is also a felony and is punishable by two, three, or four years in prison. But, vehicular manslaughter can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony and the punishment can range from probation to ten years in prison.
This office has experience with murder and manslaughter charges. Call us for a free consultation on these charges.