If you’re charged with the unlawful killing of another human being or fetus, otherwise known as homicide, you may face the most severe punishment the law allows, including life imprisonment without the possibility of parole or even the death penalty. Although any death is tragic, not every tragic fatality constitutes a crime.
As a successful former California prosecutor, most recently as a deputy district attorney in Imperial County, I have intimate knowledge of both police investigative procedure and prosecutors’ litigation strategies. When I handle a manslaughter or murder case, I typically rely on DNA experts, experienced defense investigators, forensics experts and jury consultants.
When someone dies as result of anything other than natural causes, there is a natural tendency to want to assign blame and punish someone. This natural inclination, along with public outcry, sometimes puts enormous pressure on the police to rush to judgment and find someone to blame or on prosecutors to obtain a conviction by any means necessary.
Above all, my #1 goal is to get you a not guilty verdict. My job as your defense attorney is to serve as a check on the enormous power wielded by the state’s investigators and prosecutors to ensure your rights are protected and that you receive the most diligent defense possible. I utilize all my experience, expertise and resources to protect your freedom from a conviction that may determine the course of the rest of your life.
What the Law Says
I’ve handled thousands of criminal cases in San Diego and throughout Southern California on behalf of those charged with violent felonies, including murder and manslaughter. I effectively represent clients in all types of homicide cases, including:
- First-Degree Murder
- Second-Degree Murder
- Capital Murder
- Aggravated Murder
- Manslaughter (Voluntary and Involuntary)
- Vehicular Manslaughter
- Reckless (Vehicular) Murder
Murder is defined under the California Penal Code as the unlawful killing of a person or fetus with “malice forethought.” The first thing you should notice about this definition is that it distinguishes lawful from unlawful killings. While the broader term “homicide” includes all forms of killings, including murder, manslaughter and justifiable homicides, murder is limited to those without justification or defense and typically applies to the most egregious killings.
For instance, murder is distinguished from manslaughter by the requirement of malice forethought. While this term does not mean that a killing must be the product of ill will or even that it be intentional, it requires actions that reflect extreme recklessness amounting to a conscious disregard for human life. A person exhibits the mental state that distinguishes murder from manslaughter when he or she engages in conduct likely to result in the serious injury or death of another.
There are several degrees of murder that carry different punishments based on the specific circumstances, including:
- Use of explosive devices
- Felony-murder (death occurs during the commission of enumerated felonies)
- Lying in wait or inflicting torture
- Willful, deliberate or premeditated
First-Degree Murder with Special Circumstances (Capital Murder)
- Multiple victims
- Killing as a hate crime
- Committed for profit or financial advantage
- Drive-by shooting or to otherwise benefit a street gang
- Occurs immediately before or after or during an enumerated felony that triggers the felony-murder rule
- Victim is a witness, law enforcement officer, judge, prosecutor, judge or the like
Second-Degree Murder Any murder that is not listed above as first-degree murder (including willful but not premeditated killings) is considered second-degree murder.
If you’re accused of causing someone’s death during the commission of certain dangerous felonies, you may be subject to the felony-murder rule. This rule basically means that if you or an accomplice kills someone and the killing is in any way logically connected to the commission of a felony, you may be charged with either first- or second-degree murder, depending on the specific felony committed. Even if the killing in no way helps facilitate the commission of the felony, you may still be subject to the felony-murder rule if there is any logical connection between the commission of the felony and the resulting death.
I may employ a wide range of defenses to protect you from the harsh consequences of a murder conviction. For example, I may challenge violations of your constitutional rights, such as a violation of your Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search or seizures or a violation of your rights against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment, if you invoked your right to an attorney or to remain silent but the police continued to interview or interrogate you.
I will also work closely with forensic experts to carefully analyze the physical evidence in the case to determine potential weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case. Sometimes people cause the death of another, but it’s either accidental or there are other mitigating circumstances that make it unfair to impose severe punishment, such as when someone has a mental disease or other issue. I will examine all of these potential theories in order to develop the strongest possible criminal defense.
Another frequently effective defense is mistaken identity. Eyewitness identifications are notoriously unreliable and often result in individuals being falsely accused. Depending on the specifics of your case, I may also rely on self-defense or the “defense of others” defense.
The bottom line is that I will leave no stone unturned in defending you against the devastating consequences of a murder conviction.
What the Law Says
The California Penal Code identifies three separate types of manslaughter, including voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter and vehicular manslaughter. While all are very serious, they are considered less serious than a murder conviction.
Indeed, sometimes the most effective approach to a murder case, where there is a great deal of compelling evidence against you and few mitigating factors, may be to negotiate a plea reduction to a manslaughter charge.
The fundamental difference between murder and involuntary manslaughter is that the death is accidental. The prosecutor may charge you for involuntary manslaughter if death occurs during the commission of a non-felony that creates a high risk of serious injury or death, which is committed without reasonable caution. Fatalities that occur in motor vehicle accidents are handled separately under California’s vehicular manslaughter law.
Unlike murder, there is no requirement that the unlawful act be inherently likely to result in serious injury or death. It is the manner in which the offense is carried out rather than the inherently dangerous nature of the crime that is controlling. The accused must also be engaged in reckless conduct that rises above ordinary negligence.
This offense differs substantially from involuntary manslaughter because it does not involve an inadvertent or accidental killing. Voluntary manslaughter is closer to murder in that is an intentional killing, but one committed in the heat of passion.
This type of manslaughter involves a death that occurs as result of a motor vehicle accident in which the driver is engaged in unsafe or unlawful driving practices or driving under the influence of alcohol.
Vehicular manslaughter is similar to involuntary manslaughter except that it is a “wobbler” under California law, meaning that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony. Involuntary manslaughter is always a felony. A death that occurs in a traffic accident in which the driver is driving under the influence may even be charged as a murder where the conduct is extremely reckless and displays a conscious disregard for human life.
If you’re charged with a homicide, I will diligently seek dismissal of these serious charges or an acquittal after trial using the same strategies that I employed as a successful prosecutor. I’ve successfully defended people just like you charged with murder and manslaughter in San Diego and throughout Southern California. If you have any questions after reading this, I invite you to contact me for a free case evaluation.