Facing a violent crime accusation, especially second-degree murder, attracts severe repercussions. A conviction will result in long-term state prison imprisonment, among other sentencing. You should note that murder, whether first-degree or second-degree, is a violent felony, and the prosecution will ensure to apply California's Three-Strikes Law.

When law enforcement agents arrest you for a second-degree murder offense, you should be very careful, especially when answering their questions. Anything you tell during your arrest and interrogation may be used against you later during your trial.

After your arrest, hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is advisable as it will give you peace of mind knowing you have someone knowledgeable about the law. At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, our lawyers will listen to your side of the story and develop defense strategies to ensure you obtain the best possible outcome in your case.

Understanding Homicide Laws in California

To better understand a second-degree murder charge, you will need to understand the basics of homicide. A second-degree murder charge is under homicide which the law defines as the unlawful or lawful act of killing another person. Homicide laws categorize the act of killing another person as murder or manslaughter.

Murder, Penal Code 187

The law under California Penal Code 187 describes murder as a homicide where the culprit intends to kill the victim. Under penal code 187, you will face murder charges when you intentionally kill someone else, even if it is a fetus. The prosecution must prove to the court that you had malice or the desire or intent to commit an evil act against the victim. When the trial accuses you of committing the crime with malice aforethought, you will have done so with either implied or express malice.

Under California Penal Code 187, murder charges can fall under first-degree murder, second-degree murder, capital murder, or felony murder.

First-Degree Murder

Under penal code 189(a), California defines first-degree murder as the deliberate act of killing someone with malice. A person can commit first-degree murder when they use:

  • Poison.
  • A weapon of mass destruction.
  • Torture.
  • An explosive.
  • Lie in wait.
  • Premeditated killing.
  • Deliberate killing.
  • Discharging a firearm.

Felony Murder

This is death or murder that results from a crime. Some of the crimes which could result in felony murder include and are not limed to:

  • Rape.
  • Kidnapping.
  • Robbery.
  • Carjacking.
  • Sodomy.
  • Burglary.
  • Drive-by shooting.

Capital Murder

If you are facing capital murder charges, it means that you have committed first-degree murder, but in exceptional circumstances like:

  • Killing several people.
  • Killing to gain financially.
  • Killing off a witness to prevent them from testifying.
  • Killing a judge, police officer, juror, firefighter, and law enforcement agent.
  • Killing someone due to race, religion, color, or nationality.

Second-Degree Murder

When you face second-degree murder charges under Californian homicide laws, you must understand that the offense's circumstances will contribute significantly to your charge.

The law under Penal Code 189 defines second-degree murder as intentional murder that is committed without premeditation and deliberation. But with either express or implied malice aforethought.

When you commit second-degree murder, your intention may be to cause great bodily harm or exhibit significant indifference to human life.

You will have committed second-degree murder when you kill someone in the commission of a felony, and the protection does not treat the act as first-degree murder.

You will face second-degree murder charges when you commit a dangerous offense or felony resulting in loss of life, but it does not qualify as first-degree murder.

A dangerous offense is an offense that results in significant injury, usually fatal. California does not list which acts can be categorized as dangerous felonies or offenses. Therefore, the court will apply this rule depending on your crime's circumstances.

Types of Second-Degree Murder Charges

Intentional Murder Without Planning or Premeditation

You will commit this murder when you kill someone without premeditation or planning. At the time of the offense, you intended to kill the other person, but until that moment, you had no desire or plan to kill that person.

For example, Lynn and Brenda are neighbors, and lately, they have disagreed about their kids. Lynn believes Brenda is a bad influence on her kids, while Brenda insists she is not and requests Lynn to watch over her kids. One day, Lynn's daughter goes to Brenda's place to play, and when Lynn finds out, she confronts Brenda at her house.

The two women argue, and Lynn impulsively grabs Brenda's hunting gun hanging in the study and shoots, killing Brenda. Lynn did not have any intention of killing Brenda when she went to Brenda's house, so the act was not deliberate. However, when she pulled the trigger, she intended to kill Brenda. The prosecution will charge Lynn with second-degree murder, given the case's circumstances.

Intention To Cause Great Bodily Injury

Sometimes, you may face second-degree murder charges when you intend to cause another person significant bodily injury knowing your actions could lead to their death.

For example, Matt and Jim are having some disagreements regarding their work. Matt grabs a beer bottle and whacks the back of Jim's head with all his strength. While Matt did not intend to kill Jim when he took a beer bottle and hit him with it, he had every intention of causing significant bodily injury knowing such an injury could lead to death. When Jim dies as a result of this, Matt will face second-degree murder charges.

Having Extreme Disregard For Another Person's Life

In this type of second-degree murder, you will exhibit extreme disregard or indifference to the victim's life. In this case, you may show utter indifference to the possibility that your actions could result in the death of another person.

For example, Declan and Thomas are neighbors who have been having issues with their property boundaries. Declan goes to Thomas's place, and an argument ensues. Their neighbors gather around to watch their fight. Declan grabs his gun and wildly fires into the crowd. Although Declan did not intend to kill anybody, he did not consider that his actions could cause significant bodily injury or kill someone in the group. Firing wildly into the crowd shows his extreme disregard for the gathered people's lives. If one of his bullets hits and kills someone, Declan will face second-degree murder as he violated section 246 of the California Penal Code.

Examples of Second-degree Murder Charges

DUI/ Watson Murder

If you have an accident when driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, which leads to the death of another person. You can end up facing second-degree murder charges under California penal code 187.

When charging you with a Watson/ DUI murder charge, the prosecution will base their argument on the implied malice aforethought. The prosecution will argue that your actions were premeditated, deliberate, dangerous, and led to the victim's death.

If you have a DUI conviction history, the prosecution will use these records to prove that you knew that your dangerous DUI actions could result in the death of another person.

Sucker-Punching A Drunk, Intoxicated, Or Smaller Person

If you sucker-punch an intoxicated or smaller person, the punch results in a fatal head injury. You may end up facing second-degree murder charges if this person succumbs to their fatal head injuries.

Firing a Firearm In a Crowded Place

If you fire a firearm in a crowded place and end up killing a person, you will face second-degree murder charges even if your intention was not to kill.

Firing a gun at Another Person

When you fire a gun at a victim, killing them even if your intention was not to kill them.

Elements of Second-Degree Murder Charges

For a second-degree murder charge to be held in court, the law requires the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that:

  • You killed someone.
  • You committed the act without legal justification or excuse.
  • Your actions exhibited implied or express malice aforethought.

Implied Malice: The prosecution will accuse you of implied malice aforethought when you intend to endanger another person's life or cause them great bodily harm without provocation.

Express Malice: The prosecution will accuse you of expressing malice when you had premeditated desire and intent to kill another person without provocation. If you create circumstances that could result in the death of another person, then the prosecution can accuse you of express malice aforethought.

Difference Between First-Degree Murder Charges and Second-Degree Murder Charges

First-degree murder is similar to second-degree murder. However, one distinction between the two criminal charges is deliberation or premeditation. In a first-degree murder charge, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that you deliberately planned to kill the victim and had every intention to carry out the crime.

The trial will have to show that after plotting to kill the victim, you acted even if the entire process took several minutes. If the prosecution fails to prove beyond reasonable doubt deliberation and premeditation on your part, then they will charge you with second-degree murder.

You should note that the prosecution does not have the burden of proving that your actions were either premeditated or deliberate regarding second-degree murder charges.

For example, let's say you are driving along the highway, and another driver cuts you off. Suppose you go after the other diver in road rage and follow him to a nearby mall. Then you watch him as he enters the mall, then you take your gun from your car's grove. When you see him coming out, you shoot and kill him. In this case, you had ample time to plan and deliberate on killing the victim, so your premeditation makes your offense to be a first-degree murder charge.

On the other hand, if you just walked to the other driver in road rage when he cut you off and blindly shot him, you will face a second-degree murder charge as there was no planning, deliberation, or premeditation before committing the crime.

Difference Between Manslaughter Charges and Second-Degree Murder

The difference between manslaughter and second-degree murder is seen in the following:

In second-degree murder, how you think when committing the crime is critical. In second-degree murder, you will exhibit extreme indifference toward human life, while manslaughter is mainly an act of passion.

Both offenses involve reckless and irresponsible behavior, but in second-degree murder, you will create a high risk of death.

For example, if you fire your gun in a crowded stadium, you exhibit reckless behavior that shows your extreme disregard for human life. If you kill someone as a result of this shooting, you will face second-degree murder charges as your actions you ought to know that you could kill someone.

On the other hand, if you kill someone during a heated argument or passion, you will face manslaughter charges.

For example, if you walk into the house and find your wife cheating on you with your next-door neighbor. In anger or heat of the moment, you take your gun and shoot your wife, killing her; you will face manslaughter charges as your actions were not deliberate and you acted in the heat of passion.

Penalties For Second-Degree Murder

A conviction for second-degree murder under penal code 187 carries:

  • A minimum prison sentence of 15 years.
  • Fines of up to $10,000.
  • Earn a strike against your record.
  • Loss of Gun rights.
  • Civic Consequences. The surviving family members of the deceased can file a wrongful death claim against you. If you face a wrongful death claim, you may pay much as compensation to the deceased's family members.

However, your sentence can go up to life imprisonment in state prison, depending on some exceptional circumstances or aggravating factors.

Aggravating Factors

  • Your criminal records. If you have a murder conviction criminal record, your current penalty could result in life imprisonment without parole.
  • The victim is a peace officer. If you face second-degree murder charges for killing a propane officer, you will face 25 years or life imprisonment in state prison. Also, you could face life imprisonment without the possibility of parole if you intended to cause significant bodily injury or kill a peace officer.
  • Use of a Firearm. If you used a firearm in committing the crime, you would receive an additional 10 to 25 years prison term.
  • If you used explosive material or poison in committing the crime, your sentence would have an additional 25 years up to life imprisonment.
  • You should expect stiff sentence enhancements if the crime was accompanied by other violent crimes like robbery, carjacking, or rape.
  • If the crime was a gang-related action.
  • Use of torture.

Defenses Against Second-Degree Murder Charges

As you have seen, a conviction for second-degree murder will have long-lasting adverse effects on your life. Therefore, developing a tremendous legal defense that will challenge these charges is paramount.

A second-degree murder charge is a serious violent crime that carries stiff sentencing. If your loved one is facing these charges, you should engage the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Hiring an experienced attorney with knowledge and experience will develop a defense strategy unique to your case. The court will only convict you once the prosecution proves all the crime's elements beyond a reasonable doubt.

Some defense strategies that your defense team can develop include the following:

Self-Defense or You Were Defending Another Person

If you killed someone in self-defense or while defending another person, the court would not consider this killing murder. The law recognizes your right to defend and protect yourself against harm.

To use this defense, you must have believed that your life or that of the person you were defending was in danger. Also, you must believe that the force you used while defending yourself was necessary to protect yourself or guarantee the safety of the person you were supporting.

Coerced Confession

Your criminal defense attorney could use this defense if your confession resulted from coercion from the police and not your free will.

The court could exclude this evidence during your trial if the police coerced you into confessing to a crime you did not commit.

Evidence resulting from coerced confessions is generally inadmissible in court. You can inform your attorney if the police either psychologically or physically abused you, which led to your admission. You can use this defense if you confess to second-degree murder charges to end a brutal police interrogation or act in response to police lies.

Your attorney will ensure that the court does not use the false confession, making it inadmissible.


If you were insane when you committed the offense, your defense team could use this defense strategy. To establish insanity as a defense strategy, you must prove beyond reasonable doubt that you had a mental condition that hindered you from differentiating right from wrong.

For example, if you have schizophrenia, your attorney can show the court that you killed another person during one of your delusional episodes. Suffering from a medical illness means you were unaware that your actions were wrong due to your mental illness.

Illegal Search and Seizure

In California, the law protects you against illegal intrusions by the police on your business premises, home, property, or vehicle.

If you are facing second-degree murder charges and the prosecution uses the evidence obtained illegally by the police, you can request the court to exclude the evidence from your trial.

It Was An Accident

You can use this defense by showing the court that you:

  • Had no criminal intention of causing the deceased harm.
  • You were not acting recklessly.
  • You were involved in a lawful act during the murder.

Your attorney will have to prove that your behavior was not criminal; therefore, you can be criminally responsible for the offense. However, establishing that you were not criminally liable for the crime does not protect you against civil liability. If the court finds that your actions were negligent, even if you were not criminally negligent, you can face charges for causing the victim's death.

You Were Under Prescribed Medication

You could use this defense if you committed the act when your legally prescribed medications led to temporary intoxication from adequately using your prescription medication. Your lawyer will have to show that you were using your legally prescribed medication well and that the temporary intoxication hindered you from committing second-degree murder.

You should note that for this defense to hold in court, you must have taken your legally prescribed medication as prescribed. However, you can not use this defense if your intoxication was due to the following:

  • Not taking your medication as prescribed.
  • You took prescription medication, although it was not prescribed to you.
  • You were intoxicated by alcohol and drugs.

Mistaken Identity

You could use this defense if you committed a second-degree murder due to threats. Sometimes you may show extreme disregard for human life when you are threatened by using deadly force against you or your loved ones. If this is the case, your attorney will ensure the court dismisses your charges from second-degree murder to manslaughter charges which carry much lenient sentencing.

You Were Threatened or Forced into Committing the Act

You could use this defense if you committed a second-degree murder due to threats. Sometimes you may show extreme disregard for human life when you are threatened by using deadly force against you or your loved ones. If this is the case, your attorney will ensure the court dismisses your charges from second-degree murder to manslaughter charges which carry much lenient sentencing.

Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Facing second-degree murder charges in Los Angeles can be a troubling experience. Apart from the harsh sentence that a conviction will gather, your reputation will be in shreds. You will want to protect your family from the negative impacts of these charges.

Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney to spearhead your defense is one of the most critical decisions you can make. You will have to engage the services of an experienced defense attorney who understands the California justice system and will work hard to ensure you obtain the best possible outcome in your case.

At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we will work with experts in the field who will show different perspectives on your case. The aim is to provide you with the best defense possible by working hard and developing unique legal strategies that best suit your case to ensure that the court dismisses or reduces your charges. Call us now at 424-333-0943 for a non-obligatory consultation.