Experienced Murder Defense Attorney Serving Orange County, Riverside County, and San Bernardino County
Are You Facing A Murder Charge?
Choosing The Right Lawyer Can Be The Difference Between Freedom And Incarceration
Right now, you’re scared and panicking. You or a loved one are under investigation or have been charged with murder or attempted murder.
If convicted, you face some of the harshest punishments under the criminal justice system:
- 25 years to life in prison
- life imprisonment without the possibility of parole
- the death penalty
With your future and life on the line, you need a highly qualified criminal defense attorney who will stop at nothing to make sure you are kept out of jail and remain with your family.
It’s important that you contact me as soon as possible so that I can advise you of your legal rights.
Even if you believe the evidence is stacked against you, we can still develop a winning strategy. The sooner we talk, the sooner I can begin developing an effective defense on your behalf.
Murder Laws In California
Under California Penal Code Section 187, murder is defined as “the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.”
“Malice aforethought” means you meant to kill the victim without just cause or legal excuse, and did so with deliberate intent or a reckless disregard for human life.
California recognizes three degrees of murder:
- first degree
- second degree
- capital murder
First Degree Murder
First degree murder is more serious than second degree.
To be convicted of first degree murder, the prosecutor would have to prove that your decision to kill was deliberate, premeditated and carried out with malice.
The following methods of killing qualify as first degree murder:
- Using a destructive device or explosive or weapon of mass destruction
- Armor-piercing ammunition
- Firearm shot from a motor vehicle
- Murder committed while carrying out a felony, including:
- lewd acts with a minor
Penalties & Sentencing for First Degree Murder:
- Imprisonment in state prison for a term of 25 years to life
- Life imprisonment in state prison without the possibility of parole
Second Degree Murder
Second degree murder applies to any murder that is willful, but not deliberate or premeditated.
It is also referred to as “all other murders that are not first degree.”
Examples of second degree murder include:
- Shooting a gun into a crowd and killing someone, even if that wasn’t your intention
- Previously convicted DUI offender drives under the influence and ends up killing someone in an accident
- Using a deadly weapon of any kind in a fight that results in death without a reasonable, excusable defense
- Murder committed in the heat of passion or during a sudden fight or quarrel, where there was an intent to injure but not kill
Penalties & Sentencing for Second Degree Murder:
15 years-to-life in state prison
There are some circumstances in which a second degree murder charge can exponentially increase. These include:
If you have previously served a sentence for a murder conviction, you will be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole
If you killed your victim by shooting a firearm out of a vehicle with the intent of causing serious injury – a “drive-by shooting” – you can be sentenced to serve 20 years-to-life
If your victim is a law enforcement official, your sentence increases to 25 years-to-life
- If your victim is a law enforcement official, you will face life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOP) if you:
- specifically intended to kill the officer
- specifically intended to inflict great bodily injury
- killed the officer using a deadly weapon or firearm
Capital murder is the most serious and heavily punishable crime one can face in California.
A first degree murder case can become a capital crime if one or more than 20 special circumstances is involved, including:
- Murder of a judge, police officer, fire fighter, or elected or appointed government official
- Murder related to a religious or hate crime
- The crime occurred during the commission of a robbery, burglary, rape, or other violent crime
- Prior conviction for first or second degree murder
- A destructive device, such as a bomb or gun, was used in the crime
- Retaliation against a witness for providing testimony
- Retaliation against a prosecutor or judge
- The crime was especially heinous or involved torture
- Shooting a firearm from a vehicle
- Gang affiliation
- Aiding, abetting, or soliciting the murder—even if you did not actually kill the victim
The punishment for capital murder consists of:
- The death penalty (lethal injection), or
- A prison sentence of life without the possibility of parole
What is the “10-20-life ‘use a gun and you’re done’” law?
If you are convicted of murder and there was a gun involved in the commission of the crime, years will be added on to your original sentence.
- If you used a gun – 10 years added
- If you fired a gun – 20 years added
- If you kill or seriously injure someone with a gun – 25 years-to-life in prison
Attempted Murder Laws In California
Under California Law, attempted murder is an unsuccessful attempt to murder someone. If you intended to kill someone and took direct action toward killing that person, you could be charged with attempted murder.
Examples would be stabbing or shooting someone, or hiring an assassin to kill someone.
Penalties & Sentencing for First Degree Attempted Murder
You can either be charged with first degree attempted murder or second degree attempted murder.
First degree attempted murder penalty:
- Life in state prison with the possibility of parole
- Victim restitution (court ordered payment to compensate victim for losses suffered as a result of the crime)
- Up to $10,000 in fines
- Lose right to acquire, own, carry, or possess a firearm
Second degree attempted penalty:
- Five, seven, or nine years in state prison
- Victim restitution
- Up to $10,000 in fines
- Lose right to acquire, own, carry, or possess a firearm
Attempted murder is actually one of the more difficult crimes for prosecutors to prove. Even if you wanted or planned to kill someone, it would not be enough to charge you for attempted murder.
The prosecutor would need to prove that you were in the actual process of putting your plan into action and murder would have been carried out if some outside force had not interrupted the attempt.
Legal Defenses For A Not Guilty Verdict
There are several defense strategies we can explore in an effort to get the charges against you reduced or cleared altogether.
At Wohl Law, I have assembled a team of state-wide experts that can help add validity to your case. Such experts include:
- homicide detectives
- forensic specialists
- lab analysts
Self-Defense/Defense of Others
If you were in a situation where you felt as if your life or another person’s life were in imminent danger, and you had no other choice than to kill the aggressor, the state’s self-defense laws may excuse your use of deadly force.
You would have to prove you acted in self-defense in order to avoid:
- being killed
- suffering great bodily injury
- being raped, maimed, robbed, or some other forcible and atrocious crime
Mistaken identity is the number one reason why innocent people get convicted.
This often happens because witnesses to a crime are too scared, traumatized or stressed during the time of the killing to really get a good look at the perpetrator.
It’s not uncommon for witnesses to misidentify the killer in a photo or live lineup.
- If you have an alibi during the time the murder was committed, we can establish that it wasn’t possible for you to have been at the crime scene.
- We can attempt to discredit police identification procedures, forensic evidence and eyewitness reports.
- We can demand another live line up, and have an identification expert testify in court.
It Was An Accident
If you killed someone but:
- had no criminal intention to do harm
- were not acting in a negligent manner
- were otherwise engaged in lawful activity at the time of the killing
then you cannot be found guilty of murder.
Not Guilty By Reason Of Insanity
If you did kill someone but suffer from a mental disorder that impairs your ability to understand the wrongfulness of your conduct, you may be sent to a treatment center to get help instead of prison.
- 5th Amendment violations. If you were coerced into giving a confession or admitted to the crime without having been read the proper Miranda warnings – your confession will be inadmissible in court.
- 4th Amendment violations. If evidence was obtained through an unreasonable search or seizure without a warrant, we can file a motion to suppress and the evidence will be inadmissible in court.
You Were Not Involved
This may be a case of simply being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
You may have been within the vicinity of where the crime occurred or known the person that committed the crime, but you did nothing to contribute to the murder. You would be considered simply a bystander.
Reduction of Charge from Murder to Manslaughter
Depending upon the circumstances of your case, it may be in your best interests to enter into a plea-bargaining agreement with the prosecutor.
This would entail agreeing to plead guilty to a lesser charge in order to receive a shorter prison sentence.
If you have been charged with murder, your best chance at a lesser punishment would be to plead guilty to manslaughter.
Manslaughter is killing without malice, but with a conscious disregard for human life.
My argument to the judge would be that you did kill, but you did so in the “heat of passion” — a situation in which you were provoked in such a way that it caused you to stop thinking rationally.
The charge of manslaughter would be more appropriate because you acted out of intense emotion rather than deliberate intention.
The sentence reduction from murder to manslaughter is substantial, the difference being 25 years to life in prison versus 3-11 years.
What To Expect From The Criminal Court Process In California
The criminal court process can be intimidating and overwhelming, but as your attorney, I will be there to guide you at every stage.
Here is a brief overview of what you can expect from an arrest to a verdict handed down at trial.
Arrest & Arraignment
After your arrest, your first court appearance will be at the arraignment.
The judge will formally read the charges against you, and you will respond by entering a plea of either:
- Not Guilty
- No Contest (you do not disagree with the charge)
If you are in custody at the time of the arraignment, you will either be:
- released of your own recognizance and agree to return to court at a later date
- sent back to jail until bail is posted
- sent back to jail without bail
A preliminary hearing can best be described as a “mini-trial” in which the prosecution presents evidence and testimony before a judge to show that you had “probable cause” to commit the crime.
Their goal is to persuade the judge to take your case to trial.
I will have the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses and to challenge the prosecution’s evidence at the hearing.
The purpose of this hearing is to find out if any of your constitutional rights were violated and to decide if certain evidence is inadmissible because of it.
- Did the police not follow proper procedures?
- Did the officer take statements from you without reading you your Miranda rights?
- Did the police illegally search your person, your home, your vehicle, any of your belongings?
The judge will listen to our arguments and may choose to suppress all evidence, which could result in:
- throwing the entire case out
- throwing out some of the evidence and continuing with the case
- all evidence will be determined as proper and can be used against you
Throughout the arraignment, preliminary hearing or omnibus hearing you have the opportunity to reach into a plea agreement with the prosecutor to avoid trial.
Going To Trial
The jury in a California criminal jury trial is comprised of twelve members who represent a “cross section” of the community in which the charged offense was committed.
During trial, you are entitled to certain rights:
- You have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
- You don’t have to prove your innocence, it is the state’s job to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
- You have the right to confront and cross examine any witnesses testifying against you.
- You have the right to subpoena witnesses to testify on your behalf even if they don’t want to, it’s court ordered.
- You have the right to remain silent throughout your trial, and it cannot be used against you.
- You have the right to testify for yourself.
- If your case goes to a jury deliberation, you have the right to a unanimous verdict.
- The only way you can be found guilty and convicted of a crime is if the decision is unanimous.
Don’t let murder or attempted murder charges in California rob you of your future or your life.
Contact me today to schedule a consultation.
Local: (714) 242-1223
Toll Free: 1-855-4JPV LAW or (855) 457-8529