The Consequences of Homicide, Murder, and Manslaughter in California
Since the beginning of the civilized world, there have been punishments for the killing of another person. Whether intentional or unintentional, the killing of another human being is so serious that in some circumstances, the defendant can lose their life as well.
In California, homicide is a wide umbrella term that covers any killing of another human being. A homicide may be unlawful, as in the case of murder, or lawful, in the case of self-defense. A key factor in the characterization of the crime, and the severity of the penalty, is directly linked to the accused’s intent; other factors, such as whether a felony was being committed at the time, the criminal history of the defendant, and the amount of negligence involved (if any), are also considered. Generally, if the defendant intended the death it is murder, but if the death was unintentional, the defendant will be charged with manslaughter.
According to California Penal Code Section 187, murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought. “Malice aforethought” is the intention to unlawfully kill a human being and is the element that differentiates murder from the lesser charge of manslaughter. Malice can be express or implied.
Murder is always a felony and will always result in jail time, regardless of whether it is murder in the first or second degree. Defendants found guilty of capital murder could potentially face the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. First-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison, while second-degree murder can lead to 15 years in prison.
California defines manslaughter in Penal Code Section 192 as the unlawful killing of another human being without malice aforethought. There are three types of manslaughter recognized in California: voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, and vehicular manslaughter. Although sentencing for each depends on the specific circumstances of the case, generally a manslaughter conviction will result in significant jail time, fees, and other penalties.
Voluntary manslaughter is the killing of another human being as a result of a sudden quarrel or heat of passion. The most classic example of voluntary manslaughter is when one spouse murders the other after witnessing an extramarital affair. As the most serious manslaughter charge, voluntary manslaughter is a felony and carries the toughest sentence: defendants face up to 11 years in state prison, maximum fines of $10,000, loss of gun rights, and other penalties.
Involuntary manslaughter, on the other hand, is the unlawful killing of another human being either while the defendant is engaged in an unlawful act other than a felony, or while engaging in a lawful act but failing to exercise the caution that the lawful act requires. Defendants who are found guilty of involuntary manslaughter can face up to four years in jail and a maximum fine of $10,000.
Vehicular manslaughter is the final type of manslaughter recognized by California law and is unique in that it can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. Vehicular manslaughter occurs either when the defendant is committing an unlawful act that is not a felony with or without gross negligence, or a lawful act which might produce death if done in an unlawful manner. For example, while driving a car is a lawful act, speeding while driving is not; if you are speeding and kill another person, the unlawful manner in which you drove your car caused the death of another. Known as a “wobbler,” the circumstances surrounding the accident will help the court determine whether the offense warrants a felony charge.
California criminal defense for murder and manslaughter
If you are charged with murder or manslaughter in the state of California, the stakes couldn’t be higher. With the serious risk of capital punishment or life in prison without parole, you need an aggressive and knowledgeable California criminal defense attorney by your side. To learn more about how we can help defend your rights, please contact our office today.