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How murders are charged in California: What you should know

| May 6, 2021 | Violent Crimes |

When a homicide occurs, murder charges may soon follow. Naturally, a murder charge is very serious, and the best way to participate in your own defense is to learn as much as you can about your situation. 

Regardless of the circumstances of your case, here’s what you need to know about murder charges in California.

The difference between first degree murder and second degree murder

Murder charges (as opposed to manslaughter) involve the intentional taking of a life, but they are divided into two different levels: First degree murder and second degree murder.  

What’s the difference? First degree murder charges are reserved for cases where there was premeditation and planning, or situations where the homicide occurred during the commission of a felony, such as kidnapping or rape. It also includes cases involving poison, drive-by shootings, torture and weapons of mass destruction. The more heinous the perceived homicide, the more likely it is to be charged as first degree murder.

Murders that don’t meet the requirements for first-degree murder are charged as second degree. This still requires the prosecution to show that the homicide was intentional, but it doesn’t require proof that there was any premeditation or planning. Nor does a second degree murder charge require any special circumstances, like another felony act. 

Most people realize that you can get life in prison for a first degree murder conviction. They may not realize that you can also get life in prison for second degree murder conviction. The big difference is that second degree murder has a minimum sentence of 15 years, while a first degree conviction requires a minimum sentence of 25 years. 

Anyone who’s facing murder charges in California should consult their attorney immediately. They need to learn about the options they have for answering the charge. The defense strategy can have a considerable impact on the outcome of the case.