Understanding Murder and Manslaughter Charges in California

Murder and manslaughter are two different types of homicide. When you’re facing any criminal charges, whether related to homicide, drug crimes, or another type of crime, it’s important to understand the exact nature of the charges being brought against you. The difference between seemingly similar charges can be huge when it comes to the outcome of your case.

For example, if you are accused of causing the death of another person, the difference in the charges impacts how you should defend yourself against them. It also greatly factors into what sentence you might face and the overall eventual outcome of your case.

What Is Murder?

California law defines murder as the “unlawful killing” of someone else. It involves what is called “malice aforethought.” That means there was an intent, before the incident, to end someone’s life or malicious behavior that disregarded life. The level of intent and premeditation, as well as other factors associated with the crime, help determine what degree the murder charge may be.

What Are the Degrees of Murder in California?

If a crime constitutes murder in California, it can be charged in the first or second degree.

Typically, a first-degree murder is one that is wholly premeditated. This means that someone is accused of thinking about killing someone else, planning to kill someone else, and then carrying out that plan.

For example, if a spouse is accused of being angry with their partner and thinking about harming them before going out, buying poison, and taking action to kill the other person, this involves premeditation. The charge in this case would likely be first-degree murder.

In some cases, a murder is charged in the first degree if it occurred during the act of committing certain other crimes, even though the killing itself was not premeditated. For example, if a homicide occurs when someone is carrying out a robbery, burglary, carjacking, rape, kidnapping, or arson, it might be charged as a first-degree murder.

Murder charges might also be of the first degree in cases where armor-piercing ammunition or explosives are used.

Second-degree murder is somewhat of a catch-all charge in California. If a potential homicide is not considered manslaughter but does not meet the parameters for a first-degree murder charge, it may be charged as a second-degree murder.

What Is Manslaughter?

Manslaughter occurs when someone causes the death of another person but there was not a specific intent to end a life.

Voluntary Versus Involuntary Manslaughter

There are two main types of manslaughter. The first is known as voluntary manslaughter. This charge accuses someone of purposefully taking an action that harms another but not premeditating the murder.

For example, say a spouse comes home to find that their loved one is cheating on them. They fly into a rage that includes violence against another person. That leads to the death of the other person. There may be a case here that the charge should be manslaughter because there was no premeditation.

Another example of voluntary manslaughter might be for self-defense or in the defense of others in some cases. If someone believes their life is in danger — or the life of their loved one is in danger — they might use force to protect it. If their belief was not reasonable or they could have secured themselves or their loved ones without deadly force, they might face manslaughter charges if they kill someone in defense.

The other main type of manslaughter is involuntary manslaughter. This occurs when a death is caused by some negligence or reckless action. One example is when someone is killed by a drunk driver, as vehicular homicides may be involuntary manslaughter in many cases.

When Do You Need a Criminal Law Attorney?

As you can see, the lines between some of these criminal charges aren’t always obvious. The factors in each case are critical in determining the charge, and there are often gray areas and opportunities for arguing for a lesser charge when it comes to criminal cases.

If you are facing a homicide charge of any kind, an experienced criminal law attorney can help you understand the nature of the charges and may be able to argue for lesser charges. This can make a huge difference as the sentence for conviction on first-degree murder charges is 25 years to life in prison while the sentence for manslaughter charges may be three to 11 years in prison, depending on the specifics of the case.

Of course, in many cases, the optimal outcome is being proved innocent. A criminal law attorney can help there, too, by building a case for your defense. Whatever your situation is, homicide charges of any type are serious. It’s a good idea to consult a lawyer experienced with homicide charges specifically so you can understand what you’re facing and how best to move forward.

The Confianza Legal team can help. When you choose our legal team, you’ll work directly with experienced attorneys who work hard to try to keep you out of jail and protect your future. Our team all speaks Spanish, ensuring we can communicate effectively with our clients and ensure none of the important details get lost in translation. Give the Confianza Legal team a call at 562-991-6298 if you or someone you love is facing homicide charges.