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.