California Penal Code 187 defines murder as the unlawful killing of a human being or a fetus with malice aforethought. Subsection (a) says that malice may be express (the defendant specifically intended to kill the victim) or implied (the defendant acted with full awareness of the danger their actions posed and showed a conscious disregard for human life). The presence of malice must be present to sustain first and second-degree murder charges.
- First-degree murder: A person is guilty of first-degree murder if they deliberately kill someone using a destructive device or explosive, lie in wait for their victim or inflict torture prior to death, or kill someone during the commission of a felony (felony murder).
- Capital murder: Capital murder (also known as first-degree murder with special circumstances) is a form of homicide punishable by either the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. It applies to over twenty different situations, such as serial killing, murdering someone for financial gain, and murdering a law enforcement official.
- Second-degree murder: Second-degree murder is murder that is wilful, but not deliberate or premeditated. An example would be shooting into a crowd and killing someone. The felony-murder rule (killing someone while committing a felony) can also apply to second-degree murder.
Anyone convicted of first-degree murder faces 25 years to life in the California state prison. But if the murder was classified as a hate crime, the sentence changes to life without the possibility of parole. Capital murder, being the most serious charge, is punishable by death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
A second-degree murder conviction typically results in 15 years to life in the state prison. Certain circumstances can generate a harsher sentence: a previous conviction (in which case the punishment is life without parole), a drive-by shooting (20 years to life), or if the victim is a peace officer (25 years to life). If the defendant intended to kill the officer and used a firearm or other deadly weapon, the sentence changes to life without parole.
Murder convictions frequently incur extra penalties outside of the base prison sentence. If the murder was committed using a firearm, a defendant may receive an extra ten years or even a life sentence. Other punitive add-ons include victim restitution and a $10,000 fine.
Federal law recognizes first and second-degree murder. Anyone who commits first-degree murder on federal territory or under conditions that place the crime within the jurisdiction of the U.S. government can be sentenced to life in prison or death. Second degree murder can result in imprisonment for any number of years (including life) depending on the circumstances.
Attempted murder, DUI murder, Involuntary manslaughter, Voluntary manslaughter, Vehicular manslaughter
If a person learns that they are the focus of a murder investigation, they need to retain a California criminal defense attorney right away. A murder charge entails such severe consequences that finding an attorney with experience in defending murder cases is mandatory.
Self-defense, accidental killing, mistaken identification, illegally obtained evidence, forced or coerced confessions, and mental illness are all valid defenses to a California murder charge.
In June 2014 Gabriel O'Neill, 45, of Brisbane, was charged with murder and committing murder in the course of a kidnapping, rape, and an act of forced oral copulation. In March 1989 27-year-old Sheila Hatcher's body was found on San Bruno Mountain. At the time police investigators could not identify a suspect, but the case has been reopened and O'Neill's DNA was allegedly found on the victim.