First-degree murder is a severe charge in the California criminal system. When prosecuted in the criminal court for first-degree murder, you may find it challenging to defend yourself, especially when the prosecutor has overwhelming evidence. The situation worsens if you do not have a criminal defense attorney to take you through the legal process.

You want to seek legal help from a criminal defense attorney immediately after you face a first-degree murder charge. At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we are here to assist you throughout the legal process and ensure you skip the harsh penalties. We first evaluate your case to develop the best defense strategy.

Understanding First-Degree Murder in California

Under California PC 187, the court punishes homicide as manslaughter or murder. In any murder case, the prosecution team must prove malice aforethought, which involves intent and the state of mind during the crime's commission. The prosecution team demonstrates that you acted with implied spite or precision.

Malice shows the defendant had the intent to kill the victim. Alternatively, implied malice shows you acted with disregard for the safety of other people's lives. According to California PC 189, the willful and intentional killing of another person’s life is first-degree murder. California law considers the crime a felony.

Per the law, first-degree murder occurs when you kill the victim while committing rape, arson, robbery, and kidnapping. During the prosecution of PC 187, the law outlined a list of exceptional situations you must meet. When the circumstances are absent in this case, the prosecutor must pass the crime to second-degree murder. Murder qualifies to be first-degree under the following situations:

  • Deliberation and premeditation.
  • Use of bombs, poison, or explosive devices.
  • Torturing the alleged victim.
  • Attempt or commission of specific felony offense.

Elements of First-Degree Murder

As mentioned above, California has two main classes of murder, first-degree and second-degree murder. When charging you with first-degree murder, the prosecutor must prove the main element of the crime. So, what are the main elements of first-degree murder? The following are the elements of the crime the prosecutor must prove before you face conviction:

You Killed in a Manner that Was Willful, Premeditated, Deliberate, or Willful

After the prosecutor register a first-degree murder charge against you, they must prove you committed the crime in a way that was intentional and willful and you targeted at ending the life of the fetus or human being. Even when you plan to kill someone but kill the wrong person or a random individual, you also face charges for first-degree murder. If you demonstrate reckless acts during the commission of the crime, you may also face the charges of first-degree murder.

To establish whether the murder was premeditated or deliberated, the prosecution team must consider the circumstance surrounding your case. The prosecutor does not need to prove whether you had enough time to plan or contemplate the murder.

Instead, the prosecutor needs to prove you had enough time to form the intent of ending the alleged victim's life after sufficient time for an ordinary or sober person under a similar situation. Although premeditation or deliberation may occur fast, the prosecution team must show it did not happen during the crime. The plan must not occur when the defendant ends the victim's life.

You Ended the Victim's Life While Committing a Felony

Under senate bill 1437, the law outlines that you will face a first-degree murder charge when you attempt to commit a felony with the intent to end another person's life. The California PC 189 outlines a list of felonies you will face charges for first-degree murder when a person dies during the commission of the offense. Therefore you face the charge for the crime when you end the life of another person while committing the following crimes:

  • Burglary
  • Carjacking
  • Arson
  • Kidnapping
  • Mayhem
  • Torture
  • Robbery
  • Lewd behavior with a child
  • Unlawful behavior of sodomy
  • Sexual penetration by force

You Accomplished Murder by Lying in Wait

As the prosecutor proves the element of the crime, they must understand your behavior and how it could cause harm or trauma to the victim's relatives. Also, how will the victim feel and experience if they do not die on the spot? Note that lying in wait is a way of premeditation.

So, you will face conviction if you committed the crime relying on the plan involving lying in wait. Remember, premeditation does not necessarily require the use of a deadly weapon.

Your action showed disregard for human life. When the prosecution team demonstrates the acts you committed to cause the murder, they must prove you had disregard for human life.

So, the defendant must have engaged in actions that led to serious bodily injury without considering the victim could die because of the injuries. The prosecutor must gather sufficient evidence from different sources to support their claim.

The evidence may include camera footage. When the camera footage shows the rude method of killing, like manslaughter, the evidence is enough to demonstrate you had disregard for human life during the commission of the crime.

Your Unlawful Actions were Directly Linked to the Death of the Victim

Apart from proving the intent and willful act to commit the crime, the prosecutor wants to present any evidence linking to the victim's death. The prosecutor must show your actions resulted in the death of the victim.

The prosecutor finds it easy to prove the immediate cause of the victim's death. For example, the prosecutor only shows the alleged victim suffered a deadly bodily injury to move. So, the powerlessness to seek help or move caused the victim to succumb. Also, the prosecution may provide images of the crime scene indicating the victim remained in the exact position.

In a case where the defendant claims the alleged victim had an underlying condition, the prosecutor must show the victim's condition has nothing, resulting in their demise. For example, when a person begins to shoot a gun in a house, the victim might die due to other causes. When the victim dies because of a heart attack or shock resulting from the gunshots, the prosecutor finds it difficult to link the death with the defendant's actions.

Therefore when the prosecutor proves these elements, you will face conviction for first-degree murder. You cannot face conviction unless the prosecutor fails to prove the elements. Ensure you work with your criminal defense attorney to help you fight the charge.

The Legal Penalties for First-Degree Murder

First-degree murder is the most severe level of all homicide crimes. The penalties for first-degree murder are the harshest of any crime in California. So, you want to work closely with your criminal defense attorney to assist you in evading these severe penalties. The court considers the above elements to set the penalties. Also, the court considers other factors, like the defendant's past criminal convictions. The sentencing includes:

  • Death sentence
  • A life sentence without the possibility of a parole

Remember, you receive life incarceration without a death sentence under certain situations. To inflict the sentence, the court considers the following factors:

  • Using a bomb or ED
  • Whether you committed the crime while committing a felony crime
  • You committed the crime while preventing a lawful arrest
  • Whether you intended to commit the crime for financial gain

The Felony Murder Rule

In California, second and first-degree murder is subject to the felony murder rule. As per the rule, you can face conviction for murder when you kill another person while committing a severe behavior of felony.

As per the rule, you do not need to have killed the victim during the commission of the felony. You will face a conviction for murder if the victim's death is logically related to a felonious act. Speak with your criminal defense attorney to help you know more about the felony murder rule in California.

Legal Defenses to First-Degree Murder

The penalties and punishment for first-degree murder are the worst things you can face. However, you still have the opportunity to fight the charges. You want to seek legal help from a criminal defense attorney. Note the attorney you choose will determine the possible outcome of your case.

Hire an experienced attorney with a criminal record defending clients facing murder charges in California. The primary legal defense for first-degree murder is based on the prosecutor's insufficient evidence. Although the crime is a grievous offense, you can use the following defenses to fight the charge:

Self-Defense and Defense of Others

You can commit homicide while defending yourself or others. The defense applies in cases where you believe you or your loved one is in imminent danger of suffering severe body injuries, being robbed, raped, killed, or being maimed.

According to self-defense laws, the law allows you to take reasonable measures to protect yourself or another person, even if it requires you to use deadly force. So, you can be free of murder if you commit the crime in self-defense. So, if this is your situation, the court can consider dropping or reducing your charge.

Accidental killing

Do you know you can accidentally kill another person? Therefore when you find yourself in a similar situation, you can use the defense of accidental killing to avoid the charges of murder. Accidental killing takes place when:

  • You had no intent to commit the crime.
  • You did not neglect your acts.
  • After the death of the victim, you were involved in lawful acts.

Mistaken Identity

Many people are behind bars because of mistaken identity. The police can arrest you because the witness mistook you for the main perpetrator of the offense. Many factors can interfere with the eyewitness's ability to identify and remember the victim correctly. The factors might include suggestions from the police officers, the time duration from the date of the crime, intoxication, fixation on a weapon, and how stressful the encounter was.

If your attorney believes the eyewitness identification method is questionable, the attorney may take action to inflict doubt on the judge. The actions might include demanding a lineup to know whether the eyewitness can differentiate the defendant from a group of people. Your attorney can also challenge the process used by law enforcement officers. So, you must support your evidence to show the prosecutor's evidence is unreliable.

False Confessions and Coerced

During an arrest, the arresting officers must notify you of your Miranda rights. The constitution requires the police to read your Miranda rights before they arrest you. The officers should not coerce means to let you confess. Examples of coercion include using threats to inflict fear on the suspect. The criminal court can exclude the prosecutor's evidence if the confession is made involuntarily.

Although coercive tactics are widely condemned and illegal in California, they are common. In a case involving confession, your attorney must scrutinize how the law enforcement officers interrogated you. When your attorney discovers the confession was through illegal means, the court will dismiss the evidence and set you free.


Insanity can be another legal defense to fight a murder charge. Insanity is a way of asserting before the court that you were not in the right mental state during the commission of the crime. But, you must show you did not understand the nature of your actions; thus, you could not distinguish between wrong and right. Once you prove the defense of insanity, the court will dismiss the case.

Illegally Obtained Evidence

According to the law, the court excludes evidence obtained illegally. The defense is a commonly used defense to fight a murder charge. For example, the court can exclude evidence from illegal seizures and searches. Law enforcement officers must be permitted to search your property or house.

Therefore, if the police fail to adhere to these rules when gathering and collecting evidence, the court cannot allow the prosecutor to use the evidence against you. You need to support your claim by presenting evidence before the court.

Related Offenses to PC 189

The court may decide to charge you with first-degree murder or other commonly related crime. The offenses include:

1.  Second Degree Murder

You violate PC 187 when you unlawfully kill a crime victim without planning.

Elements of PC 189

Once you face arrest for violating pc, the prosecutor wants to prove you guilty. The elements include:

Your Action was Willful

The prosecutor wants to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you acted willfully. The prosecutor may use witnesses and statements from people at the scene before you committed second-degree murder. Again, the prosecutor wants to present footage from CCTV cameras of where you committed the crime.

Your Action Resulted in the Death of the Victim

The prosecutor wants to prove that the alleged victim suffered bodily injury and could not walk anymore.  The inability of the victim to seek help or walk results in the victim's death. The prosecutor wants to present photos showing you attacked the victim. Again when the alleged victim has a pre-existing condition that could lead to their death, the prosecutor wants to prove the condition did not lead to the victim's death.

Your Actions Demonstrate Negligence of Human Life

The prosecution wants to show your actions leading to the victim's death proved disregard for human life. To face conviction, you want to have been involved in acts that resulted in serious bodily injury to the victim without thinking they would die of the injury.  The prosecution wants to provide evidence, including surveillance footage, shooting a gun, or hitting the victim using a sharpened object.

Penalties for  violating PC 189

 California laws consider violating Pc 189 a felony. The penalties for the crime range from fifteen years to a life sentence. Other factors enhance your sentence. The factors include:

  • Killing a law enforcement agent.
  • Having a criminal record.
  • Killing the victim by shooting from a vehicle.

Legal Defenses

In the court, you will have a chance to raise a defense. Your criminal defense attorney may present the following defenses:

Acting In Self Defense

California laws allow you to use relative force to defend yourself from anybody threatening your safety. If your actions were self-defense and you killed the person, the judge may acquit you. However, you must satisfy the requirement that you and others near you were in grave danger.


When you are acting out of stimulation, you may use the defense. You may argue that the victim invoked your anger by their actions. The actions include annoying jokes, mocking you, or daring you. The defense may work if you acted out of anger after the provocation from the victim.

2.  Attempted Murder

Attempted murder refers to the actual unsuccessful attempt to commit murder.

Elements Of The Crime

To be guilty of murder, the prosecutor wants to prove the following elements:

Your Intent to Kill

The prosecution wants to prove that you tried to kill the victim. Wanting to injure or scare the victim does not prove the intent to kill. Examples of evidence the prosecution can present include injuries on the victim's upper part of the body where vital organs are located.

You Took a Direct But Unsuccessful Step

The prosecution wants to prove you took action towards killing the victim. The actions include hiring someone to kill or attacking someone with a weapon. Even if you changed your mind before killing the victim, you still had the intent to kill.

Penalties For Attempted Murder

Under PC187, attempted murder is a felony separated from first, and second-degree attempted murder. conviction for first-degree murder attracts fifteen years of service in jail. Attempted murder conviction attracts five, seven, or nine years of service in prison.

Other Penalties Include:

  • Restitution to the victim
  • You lose your right to own firearms

Legal Defenses

The following ate legal defenses you may use to fight against attempted murder charges:

Lack of Intent

 If the prosecutor cannot prove you had the intent to kill the victim, then you cannot face conviction. You want to prove that you did not intend to kill the victim. You may argue you tried to scare the victim.

Self Defense

California law permits you to use reasonable force to defend yourself. You may argue you had a reasonable belief that the victim posed you in danger of imminent bodily injury. Again, you may claim you did not provoke the incident. Therefore you were innocent.

3.  Voluntary Manslaughter

Voluntary manslaughter refers to the unlawful killing of someone without malice.

Elements the Prosecutor Must Prove

Voluntary manslaughter involves unexpected things that lead to death. This should have caused you to act with an aggravated passion. Again, the provocation should be enough to show a reasonable person would have acted from emotions. The killing should also have taken place immediately after the provocation. If you take time to cool off before your actions, you will likely face murder charges.

Penalties for Violating PC192

  • When you violate pc 192, you serve in prison for 3 '6 or 11 years.
  • A strike on your criminal record
  • You lose your right to own guns
  • Community labor services
  • Counseling services like anger management programs

Legal Defense

The following are the legal defenses your attorney may use to defend you against voluntary manslaughter:

Imperfect Self Defense

Your defense lawyer may easily present a successful self-defense argument. The lawyer may argue that the defendant was in imminent danger and had to use deadly force. The argument will help to reduce your charges. The defense does not justify the killing but makes your sentence lesser.


You could not face conviction for the crime if you were insane when committing the crime. You have to note that California law considers you insane if you did not comprehend the characterization of your act and did not think your actions were unacceptable.

Find a Defense Lawyer Near Me

First-degree murder is the most violent crime you can be charged with. The penalties for the crime are severe and include extensive jail terms. Fortunately, with a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney, the attorney can develop the best defense strategy to help you skip the charges.

At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, our attorneys are ready to help you. If the police arrest you in Los Angeles, CA, and seek legal help, do not hesitate to contact us. Contact us today at 424-333-0943, and speak with one of our experienced defense attorneys.