Murder in the second-degree is among the most severe charges you will face in the criminal system, mainly from the harsh effect of death for the victim. A defendant arraigned in court for second-degree murder often has little to say in defense, mostly when the investigation team has submitted overwhelming evidence against the person. The situation becomes even worse when the defendant has no criminal defense lawyer present to take up the task of defense. The prosecutor may easily manipulate some information to get you to provide self-incriminating information.
To avoid all the pressure you could face when beginning trial for second-degree murder without a lawyer. We recommend contacting the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney. With our criminal defense services in Los Angeles, California, you stand a better chance of preparing persuasive defenses to avoid harsh penalties from the presiding judge. Moreover, our professional guidance and advice will go a long way in making you ready for the trial to help you understand the events to expect. In doing so, you will gain more confidence in the entire trial process, as we work hard to bring about a favorable trial outcome.
The Definition of Second-degree Murder
Committing second-degree murder involves unlawfully killing a crime victim without planning for it. Section 187 of the California Penal Code gives specifications that in a second-degree murder, the defendant's actions should be wilful but not premeditated. Therefore, your reaction may occur on the spur of the moment, depending on the circumstances that triggered you.
Further, section 189(b) distinguishes first-degree murder from second-degree by classifying all unlawful killings made with a wilful and deliberate attack in the first category. Thus, the Penal Code creates the lack of prior planning to kill as the distinguishing factor that classifies specific murder incidents in the second-degree.
Second-degree murder may occur because of numerous different factors that ultimately create various forms of crime. For example, if someone with a past DUI conviction decides to engage in the unlawful practice of driving when drunk leading to the death of pedestrians or other road users, he/she will be responsible for second-degree murder. The blame arises because the person wilfully chose to drive a vehicle when intoxicated, even though he/she did not anticipate to cause any fatal accidents.
Elements that the Prosecutor Must Prove in a Second-degree Murder Charge
Once you face arrest and arraignment in court for suspected second-degree murder, the trial will ensure, whereby the prosecutor embarks in proving that you are guilty of the murder. In a criminal charge, the prosecutor bears the burden of proof. It means that it will be up to him/her to prove all necessary elements that show your engagement in unlawful activities that ended up in murder. Therefore, the prosecutor works closely with investigating police to obtain all the evidence required for your case.
However, specific protocols must be upheld to promote a fair trial process. Ideally, the prosecutor should not get involved in the actual investigations, because it is easy for the official to include his/her interest to ensure you are found guilty when searching for the evidence. Thus, the system requires the prosecution to rely on the information submitted by the investigation officers, as he/she attempts to demonstrate that you are guilty of the charge. Some of the elements to show in second-degree murder charges are:
Your Action was Wilful
Demonstrating that you acted wilfully is critical for the prosecutor, as it distinguishes a murder charge from a manslaughter charge. Typically, a defendant found guilty of manslaughter receives the fees because his/her actions were not wilfully committed but unlawful and reckless. Therefore, proving that you acted knowingly, without the influence or coercion of any other person, will be paramount for the prosecutor. Moreover, he/she should also show that the activity that resulted in the death of a victim was not an unforeseeable accident that occurred against your will to try and stop it.
Some sources of evidence that the prosecutor may use to prove a wilful intention include witness testimonies and statements from persons close to the crime scene moments before you committed second-degree murder. While witness statements are an acceptable source of evidence, it is vital to remember that witnesses may sometimes deliver inaccurate information because they are bound to forget. Consequently, your criminal defense lawyer may have a chance to cross-examine such witnesses to refute their testimonies.
Additionally, the prosecutor will also present footage from surveillance cameras or phone recordings from anyone nearby when you engaged in unlawful activities. The aim of introducing such evidence will be to prove that your actions occurred wilfully, based on the way you conduct yourself before harming the crime victim. Most buildings and highways have surveillance cameras installed, so the prosecutor may have a relatively easy time collecting it. Despite this, your lawyer may still have several rebuttals and defenses to present.
The Unlawful Killing was Not Premeditated
Another factor that the prosecutor must include in the trial presentation is that you had not planned to commit the murder. Usually, the prosecutor dwells on showing this element of crime where he/she insists on charging you with second-degree murder instead of manslaughter or vehemently denying any engagement in second-degree murder. Consequently, the prosecutor will reveal all evidence to fit your case into a murder charge by demonstrating even more challenging elements like the lack of premeditated intention.
It is often tricky for the prosecutor to prove that you lacked a deliberate intention to commit murder, mostly because it involves studying your behavior over a reasonable duration to show that you did not engage in making any preparations. For example, it may be challenging to prove that you did not plan to commit murder and make it seem like an accident or a sudden attack.
Therefore, the prosecutor will rely on the circumstances surrounding the case to derive your lack of conscious or deliberate actions. In most cases, a defendant who engages in first-degree murder usually has a laid out plan to entrap the victim and cause severe harm that results in death. Using such information, the prosecutor will go over all the activities you engaged in before the second-degree murder, to prove that you lacked conscious intentions, but involved in harmful behavior that caused death.
Most cases revolve around a defendant who forms an intention when acting, which will also translate to a lack of deliberate intention. In this case, you may develop a plan to cause severe bodily harm to the person you attack, and not necessarily kill the person. Despite this, your engagement in crude methods to harm the victim will still attract second-degree murder charges unless your criminal lawyer can present credible defenses for your case.
Your Unlawful Activity was the Direct Cause of Death for the Victim
It is not enough to prove that you engaged in wilful, hasty actions, especially if there is no evidence linking the reactions to the victim's death. Hence, the prosecutor must also show that your unlawful engagement was the direct cause of death, to ensure that no intervening act shifts the blame to a third party or different sets of circumstances.
Usually, proving a direct cause of death from your unlawful activity is easy for the prosecutor. It only requires evidence to show that the victim suffered too much bodily harm to move. Consequently, the inability to move or seek help causes the person to succumb to the grievous physical harm you inflicted. The prosecutor may present images of the crime scene, showing that the victim was in the same position he/she was attacked by the defendant, meaning that there could be no other cause of death.
Additionally, where you contest that the murder victim had a preexisting condition that made him/her more susceptible to death, it is up to the prosecutor to show that the situation had nothing to do with the victim's death. For example, if you began shooting a firearm arbitrarily in a room full of people, a victim may have died from different causes. If the accident victim died from cardiac arrest caused by the shock of hearing gunshots, it is unlikely that the prosecutor will formulate an argument to show that the death was caused directly by your actions because there was no physical contact between you and the deceased.
Your Actions Demonstrated a Disregard for Human Life
When the prosecutor is showing the activities you engaged in causing the death of a murder victim, he/she must also prove that you disregarded human life at the time of killing the person. Therefore, you must have engaged in an activity that caused severe bodily harm without considering that the person would inevitably succumb to the injury.
Proving this element of crime requires the prosecutor to gather enough evidential information from different sources to demonstrate your unlawful actions. The evidence presented in court is surveillance footage, as it captured your actual moves when you decided to harm the murder victim. If the footage shows your engagement in crude methods of killing the person like shooting a firearm, hitting the person with a sharp object, there will be sufficient evidence to show that you had no regard for human life at the time of acting.
Moreover, your actions' repetitive nature is also a source of evidence for your disregard for human life. Here, the prosecutor may focus on showing that you continued harming the victim even when he/she posed no further danger to you. Witness statements and police reports are often reliable sources of such evidence for the prosecutor, mainly because they may contain detailed information on how you engaged in the second-degree murder.
Penalties for Second-degree murder
If the prosecutor succeeds in proving all the necessary elements of the crime, the presiding judge or jury will issue the appropriate penalties. It is important to note that section 190 of the Penal Code classifies second-degree murder as a felony in most cases. Subsequently, the crime attracts fifteen years to life imprisonment, based on the circumstances of your case.
Before issuing the sentence, the judge will consider whether your case involved any aggravating factors that may lead to a severe sentence enhancement. Some of the aggravating factors in a second-degree murder case are:
Killing a Peace Officer
When your actions result in the death of a peace officer, the judge may find it necessary to enhance your sentence, primarily because a peace officer poses no threat to anyone. On the contrary, such an officer must ensure that violent actions are contained, to prevent any undesirable outcomes like death or serious bodily injury. Moreover, a peace officer does not impose orders using threats of unleashing a firearm unless he/she requests back up in adverse situations. Thus, murdering such an officer may become an aggravating factor because it involved overpowering the victim even when he/she did not necessarily cause any harm.
Having a Previous Criminal Record
Doubtless, any defendant facing a second-degree murder trial will be at a more disadvantaged position if he/she has a previous criminal record. In most cases, the judge will be inclined to enhance your sentence by a significant number of years behind bars if your past conviction was for a felony charge, including murder, rape, or kidnapping. Most judges enhance sentences for defendants with prior criminal records to discourage you from engaging in illegal activities altogether, even after receiving punishment for the previous crime.
Killing a Victim by Shooting Out of a Moving Vehicle
Any second-degree murder that involves killings made by shooting from a vehicle will attract additional charges because the judge views such circumstances as highly negligent. Moreover, in such a situation, the murder victim may be unsuspecting of the impending danger, meaning that he/she has no real chance of defending himself/herself.
Shooting out of a moving vehicle is also common in gang activities, leading to enhanced sentences. As a result, if the prosecutor proves that you are engaged in such additional unlawful activities, it may pave the way for an enhanced penalty.
Defenses for Second-degree Murder
In any court trial, the judge will give you a chance to raise defenses for the claims brought forth by the prosecutor. During this period, your criminal defense lawyer will present all counterarguments you had prepared in advance, to introduce new sources of information that the prosecutor may have ignored when showing your guilty indulgence in the murder.
Criminal law operates on issuing convictions only when the judge or jury is convinced of your guilt beyond any reasonable doubt. Raising persuasive defenses provides a reason for the judge to issue an acquittal of charges, or at least a significant sentence reduction. The effect of each argument depends on the circumstances of your case, including your actions. Some evidence for the criminal charge is:
If you were forced to act out of provocation, you might incorporate the defense in your case, provided you have sufficient information to use the argument in your favor. Usually, provocation is an acceptable defense provided that you can prove the victim was responsible for invoking anger by a range of activities that include making offensive jokes, teasing you by acting offensively, or even daring you to engage in certain activities.
However, the defense of provocation only applies where you acted in the heat of the moment. Thus, taking some time to cool down and then returning to harm the victim will be considered first-degree murder because you are likely to form a conscious intention when cooling down. Also, you need to note that the judge will reject the defense if you acted in retaliation using more force than was necessary. Consequently, causing the severe victim harm that results in death may cause the protection to bring about small effects for your case. Nevertheless, it serves as a mitigating factor to reduce a sentence.
Acting in Self Defense
You are also allowed to use relative force to defend yourself from any person who threatens your safety and well-being. If your actions were in self-defense but ended up killing the person you believed wanted to cause you harm, the judge may acquit you. You, however, have to satisfy requirements that:
You used reasonable force
You genuinely believe that you or others near you were in grave danger
Mistake of Fact
Sometimes, you may end up killing someone because of a mistake of fact that fires up your reflexes. This defense is linked to self-defense, whereby you may mistake the person you end up killing for a dangerous attacker. For example, if your spouse comes home late at night unexpectedly, you may harm the person thinking that it was a burglar. In such a case, you will have to show that you genuinely mistook the person for another, leading you to respond violently.
Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Facing second-degree murder charges is a serious occurrence that may invoke a lot of anxiety and stress, mainly because you may not know what to anticipate during the trial process. Despite this, having a criminal lawyer working on your case will significantly improve the situation, as you can rely on their services to prepare adequately for the trial. At the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we dedicate ourselves to providing the best criminal defense services in Los Angeles, to our clients. Our skilled team will work tirelessly to ensure that you receive a good outcome for your second-degree murder charges. To get started with us, give us a call at 424-333-0943.