Murder Charges in California
According to California law, murder is the unlawful killing of a human being or fetus with malicious intention, where the offender acts with such a disregard for human life that the conduct results in death. There are several categories of murder, such as first-degree murder, second-degree murder, felony murder, and even DUI murder.
First-degree murder is punishable by 25 years to life in state prison. First-degree murder involves:
- a destructive device, weapon of mass destruction, armor-piercing ammunition, poison, lying in wait, or torture;
- willful, deliberate, and premeditated action; or
- murder during the commission of certain serious felony crimes.
Second-degree murder also entails the element of willfulness, but it is not deliberate and does not include premeditation. Second-degree murder is punishable by 15 years to life in state prison.
Felony murder is the murder of another while committing a dangerous felony, such as burglary or sexual assault. Note that accidental deaths that occur during felonies do not count as intentional felony murder unless the alleged victim was a law enforcement officer performing their duties.
DUI murder, also referred to as “Watson” murder, is a type of second-degree murder that occurs when someone causes an accident while intoxicated and kills a person as a result.
The consequences for a murder charge are serious, and Attorney Adams understands this. He has never had a client plea guilty to a murder charge and has obtained numerous dismissals for murder and attempted murder charges even before going to trial. As a result, you can trust that Attorney Adams knows how to handle your criminal case effectively.
Gang Violence Laws
Gang violence is another particular focus of California law, and it is criminalized through the state’s Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention (STEP) Act. Penal Code §186.22 states that participation in a criminal street gang with knowledge that its members engage in criminal activity is punishable as either a misdemeanor or felony. Participation in a gang could result in 1 year in county jail or a felony sentence of 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in state prison, depending on the circumstances of the offense.
In addition to gang participation penalties, though, individuals may also face gang enhancements, which are sentencing enhancements that may be appended to their sentencing for the crime with which they have been charged. For instance, a person guilty of gang-related killings could be charged with both murder and street gang enhancements. Gang enhancements generally call for 15 years to life in prison, which will be in addition and consecutive to the sentencing for the underlying felony. As a result, it is important to enlist the help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer to fight for your defense, especially when your presence in a gang might not have meant committing the felony with which you’ve been accused.
Felony Sentencing Options
Note that, depending on the nature of the crime, California courts offer a range of sentencing options for felonies, including felony probation. Recall that a felony is a serious crime (murder, rape, vehicular manslaughter) that could result in years to life in prison, as well as up to $10,000 in fines.
Felony sentencing is usually one of a low, middle, or high prison term in either state or county jail, the specific duration of which will depend on the actual crime. California offenders should generally receive the middle term, and Los Angeles County courts are required to impose sentences on the lower end of the penalty range if no extraordinary circumstances are present.
Be aware that convicted felons are required to serve their sentences in county jail rather than state prison, unless:
- they were convicted of serious or violent felonies (e.g., murder, voluntary manslaughter, rape, robbery, carjacking, firearms offenses);
- they must register as sex offenders; or
- their current convictions include a sentencing enhancement for an aggravated white collar crime.
It is also worth noting that are certain crimes that are “wobblers,” which can be prosecuted as either felonies or misdemeanors. For instance, a wobbler offense of sexual battery could be punishable as a misdemeanor by up to 364 days in county jail and/or a maximum fine of $2,000 or as a felony by 2, 3, or 4 years in prison and a fine of $10,000. In most cases, the presence of aggravating factors may sway the courts to order felony rather than misdemeanor sentencing.