Murder (Penal Code § 187)

Murder is the "unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with "malice aforethought."

Murder is generally the most serious crime a person can be charged with, carrying a potential penalty of up to life in prison or even death.Because of the potential complexity of legal and factual issues involved in murder cases and the high stakes for a defendant, it is extremely important to hire an experienced attorney as early as possible.

If you or someone you care about is facing a murder charge or is charged with any violent crime, the criminal defense attorneys at the Weinrieb Law Firm can help explain the charges and properly defend against them. We can be reached twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week at (818) 933-6555.

Elements Of Murder

The prosecution must prove the following to convict a defendant of murder:

  • Killing of a human being or fetus
  • "Malice aforethought" – this required state of mind can be either "express" malice or "implied" malice
  • Express malice – Defendant intended to kill
  • Implied malice – Defendant (1) intentionally committed an act; (2) the natural consequences of the act were dangerous to human life; (3) at the time Defendant acted he knew his act was dangerous to human life; and (4) Defendant deliberately acted with a conscious disregard for human life.

*Defendant does not need to hate or have any ill will against a victim to be guilty of murder as long as there was "malice aforethought"

First Degree Murder vs. Second Degree Murder

Murder may be classified as either "first degree" or "second degree" murder depending on the facts of the case.

First degree murder is defined in Penal Code section 189 and includes specific crimes considered particularly heinous and deserving of stiffer punishment.Examples include murder caused by a destructive or explosive device, poison, lying in wait, torture or "by any kind of willful, deliberate and premeditated killing."It also includes murder in conjunction with other specific crimes such as arson, rape, carjacking, robbery, burglary or kidnapping (among others).

Second degree murder is any murder other than those specifically designated as first degree murder in Section 189.

Punishment For Murder

As with any crime, the potential punishment for murder will vary based on the facts of the case, and can include:
First Degree Murder: Death, life in prison without parole or 25 years to life in state prison

Second Degree Murder: 15 years to life in prison

Defenses To Murder

Potential defenses to a charge of murder will depend on the facts of the case, but may include:

  • No "malice aforethought" (see definition of "malice aforethought" above)
  • Self Defense or Defense of Another Person
  • Justifiable Homicide
  • Mistaken Identification
  • Accident
  • Lack of Causation (something other than defendant's actions were the most direct cause of the victim's death)

Contact Us

If you or someone you care about is facing criminal investigation or criminal charges of any type, please contact the criminal defense attorneys at the Weinrieb Law Firm. We can be reached twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week at (818) 933-6555, or through the confidential and secure email form on the firm's website at

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