San Diego Murder Defense Lawyer
There are many different types of homicide, but not all of them are illegal. Homicide is not a crime if you are carrying out the death penalty after a person has been sentenced, or if you are a law enforcement officer required to kill in the line of duty. It may also be justified if you were defending yourself or a loved one. Despite what the prosecution might argue, killing someone doesn’t automatically mean you committed a crime.
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Voluntary manslaughter is committed in the heat of passion, or upon a sudden argument. A stereotypical scenario would be one in which a husband returns home to find his wife in bed with another and reacts so violently that he ends up killing the other man. While many factors would be examined to determine whether or not a charge of voluntary manslaughter would be appropriate, broadly speaking, this example illustrates how a homicide might be committed in the “heat of passion” without premeditation.
When someone commits an unlawful act, or commits a lawful act in an unlawful way, and ends up killing someone else as a result, this is considered involuntary manslaughter. This category includes most accidental homicide, but specifically excludes manslaughter involving an automobile.
When accidental manslaughter is caused by the reckless use of a motor vehicle, this falls under its own category, and is called vehicular manslaughter. Causing a deadly car accident while under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) would be a form of vehicular manslaughter. But not every death caused by an automobile automatically falls into this category. It must still be accidental and unpremeditated to be considered vehicular manslaughter rather than something more severe, such as first- or second-degree murder.
In California, any unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought is considered murder. However, it is only considered to be of the first degree if a person:
- Demonstrates willful and deliberate intent;
- Uses a destructive device, weapon of mass destruction, or other ammunition designed specifically for the penetration of armor;
- Fires a gun from a car, aimed at a person outside the vehicle, with the intent to kill; or
- Kills another person while perpetrating a felony, including but not limited to:
- Kidnapping, or
- Train wrecking.
First-degree murder in California, depending on the circumstances, may be punishable by death. The minimum sentence for murder in the first degree is 25 years to life in a state prison. However, if the murder was committed in conjunction with a hate crime, enhanced penalties are applied, resulting in an automatic minimum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. For the purposes of this sentencing enhancement, a "hate crime" is defined as any crime committed on the basis of a person’s:
- Sexual orientation, or
Any murder that does not qualify as first-degree murder is automatically considered to be of the second degree.
Though not as serious as first-degree murder, second-degree murder also carries fairly severe penalties in California. The main difference between the two is that second-degree murder is not premeditated. What does this mean? While both kinds of murder are intentional, and therefore more severely punished than manslaughter, second-degree murder is not planned in advance.
In California, the penalty for being found guilty of second-degree murder depends on whether or not you have been previously convicted. For first-time offenders with no prior murder convictions, the minimum sentence is 15 years to life in state prison. If, however, you were previously convicted of murder, the minimum sentence for second-degree murder rises to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Being charged with homicide is very serious, but it is not indefensible. Even if you are not a peace officer or acting on behalf of the law, in California, there are factors and circumstances that can mitigate and even excuse such a charge. Homicide is considered excusable when committed by accident or misfortune:
- While doing something lawful and with appropriate caution; or
- In the heat of passion, upon sudden and sufficient provocation, without the use of a dangerous weapon.
When not excusable, homicide may be considered justifiable if it is committed:
- While resisting an attempt to murder or bodily harm someone;
- In defense of your property, person, or family;
- While attempting to lawfully apprehend a person committing a felony; or
- While attempting to lawfully keep and preserve the peace.
If the homicide you’ve committed is found to be excusable or justifiable, you must, by law, be acquitted.
If your behavior is under investigation, by law you have the right to:
- Remain silent. You do not have to talk to law enforcement officers and you do not have to give them permission to search your property if they don’t have a warrant; and
- Get legal representation. With a San Diego violent crime lawyer on your side, you will be advised during questioning and protected from unintentionally damaging your case.
Homicide cases are a priority for law enforcement, so they will work aggressively to identify and convict the perpetrator. In their enthusiasm to see justice done, officials can sometimes make mistakes that lead to the wrong person being charged.
It is all too easy for people who aren’t familiar with the law, or who don’t know their rights, to make self-incriminating statements that damage their chances for a favorable outcome. With an attorney representing you, your rights will be protected at all times, ensuring you don’t fall victim to such life-altering errors.
James N. Dicks is a San Diego homicide attorney who has been actively involved in the criminal field for more than 30 years. His background and experience as a police detective and then as a public defender have given him a unique insight into the criminal justice process. The team at jD LAW, P.C., knows how to protect our clients and defend the accused. Read our firm's case results and credentials to see for yourself why we are the right defenders for you.
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