First Degree Murder PC 187

California Penal Code Section 187 PC covers the concept of first-degree murder. It’s defined as killing someone else unlawfully with “malice aforethought.”

That’s the legalese, and we’ll get deep into the details in this article. But the point you’re probably most concerned with is this:

What do I do if I’ve been charged with first-degree murder? Do I have any hope for a future?

And the team at Elite Criminal Defense is here to tell you that, like anyone else charged with any other crime, you have a right to build a defense against this serious charge.

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Murder, California Penal Code Section 187 PC

In California, murder is defined under Penal Code Section 187 PC as the unlawful killing of a human being or a fetus with “malice aforethought.” Malice aforethought is a crucial element, meaning the act was committed either deliberately with the intent to kill, or with a wanton disregard for human life.

The law differentiates between first-degree and second-degree murder based on factors such as premeditation, the use of deadly weapons, and special circumstances like committing the murder during the course of another felony (e.g., robbery or arson).

First-degree murder typically involves planning and deliberation, whereas second-degree murder is more spontaneous but still involves malice. Convictions under this code section carry severe penalties, including life imprisonment or even the death penalty for particularly egregious cases.

What Are the Degrees of Murder in California?


Understanding the degrees of murder is crucial if you’re facing such severe charges in California. In the Golden State, murder is divided into first and second degrees. Each has its own set of criteria and penalties.

This section will break down these categories for you. We’ll explain what makes first-degree murder different from second-degree murder. This knowledge can help you and your attorney build a strong defense. Keep reading to learn about the specifics of murder degrees in California and how this affects your case.

First-Degree Murder

In California criminal law, first-degree murder is the intentional and premeditated unlawful killing of a human being with “malice aforethought.” This means that the defendant planned the act in advance and committed the murder deliberately.

First-degree murder also includes killings that occur while the defendant was allegedly committing certain felonies, such as robbery, arson, or kidnapping, regardless of whether the killing was intentional. This is often referred to as “felony murder.”

The law specifies certain methods of killing as first-degree murder as well, such as poison, lying in wait, or torture. Penalties for a first-degree murder conviction are severe and may include life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, or in some cases, the death penalty.

Second-Degree Murder in California Law

Like first-degree murder, second-degree murder is also the unlawful killing of another person with “malice aforethought,” but without the premeditation and planning that characterizes first-degree murder.

This means that the defendant acted intentionally but didn’t necessarily plan the killing in advance. Second-degree murder can also occur when a person acts in a way that’s so reckless it shows a disregard for human life, even if you didn’t intend to kill anyone.

The penalties for second-degree murder are less severe than for first-degree but are still significant.

Capital Murder

In California, capital murder is a type of first-degree murder with special circumstances. This isn’t just any murder; it’s a very serious charge. If you’re convicted, you could face the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Special circumstances mean specific conditions were met when the murder happened. These could include killing a police officer, committing murder for financial gain, or multiple murders.

This is a grave charge. If you’re facing it, you need a strong legal defense. Your life may literally depend on it.

Elements of Murder

In California, to prove you committed murder, the prosecution must show certain elements. First, they must prove you acted with “malice aforethought.” This means you intentionally wanted to cause death or serious bodily harm.

Second, the act caused someone’s death. It’s not just about intention; someone actually has to die because of what you did.

Third, you didn’t have a legal excuse for your actions. Self-defense, for example, could be a legal excuse.

These are the core elements. If the prosecution can prove all of these, you could be convicted. This is why you need a strong legal defense to challenge each element.

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What Is the Difference Between First and Second Degree Murder?

California criminal law breaks murder down into first-degree and second-degree types. The main difference? It’s about planning and specifics.

First-degree murder involves “premeditation” and “deliberation.” This means you planned the killing in advance. It can also include special situations like using a bomb, killing a police officer, or committing murder while doing another serious crime like robbery.

Second-degree murder doesn’t involve planning. It’s more “heat of the moment.” You didn’t wake up planning to kill, but your actions resulted in someone’s death anyway, and malice was still involved.

Both are serious, but first-degree carries harsher penalties. 

Understanding these differences is crucial for your defense. It can affect the charges you face and your legal strategy.

What Are the Most Common Murder Defenses?

Facing a murder charge is a serious matter. You need to know your options for defense. The right strategy could make a difference in your case’s outcome. It might even help you avoid a life sentence or worse.

In this section, we’ll go over common defenses for murder charges in California. Knowing these could help you and your lawyer build a stronger case. These defenses have worked for others and might work for you, too — although you will need a defense that is tailored to your unique case.

A trusted criminal defense attorney can help with that. But, in the meantime, keep reading to learn more.

Self-Defense/Defense of Others

In some cases, you may have never intended to kill another person, but you were put in a position where you had no choice.

For example, you may have been the victim of violence and had to act to prevent your own injury or murder. In this situation, your actions may have ended in the death of the person attacking you to prevent others from being harmed.

Accidental Killings

In some cases, you may have never intended to harm another person. You may have been going about your day as normal when something went wrong and someone died as a result.

For this defense, you may need to prove there was no intent or deliberate action on your part, and that the fatal injuries happened by accident.

Insanity Defense

In some cases, you may not have been in a typical mental state when the alleged murder happened. Defense by reason of insanity may not prevent you from incarceration, but it may help you prevent some of the harsher potential penalties.

You may need significant psychological evaluations to use this defense. Talk to your lawyer if you believe you may have grounds for this defense, as it can be difficult to pursue.

False and Coerced Confessions

The “false or coerced confession” defense claims that your confession wasn’t true or voluntary. This can happen in various ways. For example, the police may use harsh interrogation techniques. They might pressure or trick you into admitting guilt, even if you’re innocent.

If you confessed because you felt trapped or scared, your attorney might be able to argue that the confession was coerced. Or if there are inconsistencies in your confession and the facts of the case, your lawyer may be able to argue it’s false.

This defense aims to get the confession thrown out. Without the confession, the prosecution may have a weaker case against you. Consult with an attorney to see if this defense applies to your situation.

Illegal Search and Seizure

If a police officer or other peace officer breaks the law while searching you for evidence, you may have a lawful reason to ask for specific evidence to be excluded from your case.

For example, you may have been pulled over without reasonable suspicion and searched. If this happened and the police found evidence of a murder without following the correct legal processes, that evidence against you may not be usable.

Mistaken Identification

In some cases, you may have simply been mistaken for someone else. Someone who looks similar to you may have killed another person, and you may have been misidentified as the person who did the killing.

In these cases, a possible defense may be to prove you could not have been the person who committed the crime. Talk to your lawyer about the evidence you may need to build this particular defense.

Talk with a First-Degree Murder Attorney

When a San Diego resident is accused of first-degree murder PC 187 charges, Elite Criminal Defense is ready to take action. We’re prepared to help you build a strong defense and fight for your future.If you are ready to talk with a first-degree murder lawyer in San Diego, reach out today. We can be reached by calling 619-642-2310 or filling out our online contact form.

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What Is the Punishment for Murder in California?

Wondering what happens if you’re convicted of murder in California? The penalties are severe and life-changing. This section will walk you through what you might face if found guilty.

First-Degree Murder

If you’re convicted of first-degree murder in California, the consequences are severe: 25 years to life in state prison.

In some cases, you could even face the death penalty. This is usually reserved for the most heinous crimes. Another option is life in prison without the possibility of parole.

On top of prison time, you’ll likely face a hefty fine. Plus, a murder conviction will follow you forever. It can impact your ability to find work, obtain housing, or even maintain social relationships.

Second-Degree Murder

If you get convicted of second-degree murder in California, you’re still facing serious time behind bars. The standard sentence is 15 years to life in state prison.

Depending on the details, that time can increase. For example, if you used a gun, you might get an even longer sentence.

In some cases, you might also have to pay a large fine. That’s in addition to the emotional and social costs of having a murder conviction on your record.

Just like with first-degree murder, a conviction will follow you for the rest of your life. It will make many things more difficult, like getting a job or finding a place to live.

Capital Murder

If you’re convicted of capital murder in California, the stakes are extremely high. This is the most serious murder charge you can face. The penalties can include life in prison without the possibility of parole, or even the death penalty.

Yes — California still has the death penalty on the books, although its application is complicated and controversial.

Not only will you lose your freedom, but you’ll also carry the stigma of being a capital offender. This affects your life in prison and the lives of your family and loved ones on the outside.

Are There Other Forms of Homicide?


In California, the law recognizes several different forms of homicide. These include attempted murder, manslaughter, and even vehicular manslaughter, among others.

These other charges come with their own sets of rules and penalties. They’re generally considered less severe than first- or second-degree murder, but they’re still very serious.

In this section, we’ll dive into what these other charges mean and what you could be up against.

Attempted Murder

Attempted murder is a big deal. You don’t have to actually kill someone to face severe penalties. The law says if you try to kill someone and fail, you can still be charged.

To be convicted, two things must be proven. First, you took a direct step toward killing another person. This means you did something more than just plan or prepare; you actually tried to do it.

Second, you intended to kill that person. If you’re found guilty, the penalties can be harsh, just like for actual murder.

Voluntary Manslaughter

Voluntary manslaughter is another form of homicide. It’s not as severe as murder, but it’s still serious. It happens when you kill someone in the “heat of passion” or during a sudden quarrel. There’s no pre-planning involved.

To be convicted, the prosecution must show you killed another person without lawful excuse but did so without malice. That means you didn’t plan to kill, but you acted in a reckless way.

You could have been angry or scared, but if you acted quickly without thinking, it might be voluntary manslaughter. The penalties are still tough: You could go to prison for a long time.

Involuntary Manslaughter

This one is less severe than both murder and voluntary manslaughter. It happens when you kill someone by accident. But there’s a catch: The accident must occur while you’re doing something illegal or reckless, but not something during which you’d expect to kill anyone.

To be convicted, the state needs to prove you didn’t intend to kill but were acting in a negligent or reckless way. For example, if you were driving recklessly and caused a fatal crash, you could be charged. The penalties aren’t as harsh as for murder, but you could still end up in prison for a few years.

Vehicular Manslaughter

Vehicular manslaughter is a specific type of manslaughter that involves a vehicle. This is not a murder charge. It means someone died because of how you were driving.

There are different levels, ranging from misdemeanor to felony, depending on how reckless or careless you were.

For example, if you were texting while driving and hit someone, causing their death, you could be charged with vehicular manslaughter.

Penalties can vary. You could face jail time, fines, or even lose your driver’s license. The consequences depend on the specific circumstances and how negligent you were. It’s a serious charge with lasting impacts.


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