Murder and manslaughter charges are serious, life-changing accusations. These charges can affect your career, personal relationships, reputation, and ultimately your freedom.

If you are facing murder or manslaughter charges in the San Diego area, contact experienced criminal defense attorney Peter Blair. Mr. Blair understands that you are more than the charges against you, and he is proud to represent clients throughout the San Diego region. He is committed to listening to you, giving you honest answers, and developing a sound strategy for your defense. Call (619) 357-4977 or contact The Law Office of Peter Blair online to schedule your free and confidential consultation today.

Legal Definitions

California Penal Code Section 187 defines murder as the “unlawful killing of a human being…with malice aforethought.” Proving someone is guilty of murder requires proving three things: that the perpetrator’s act resulted in the death of another person, that the act was committed with malice aforethought, and that the killing was done without lawful justification.

Murder is separated into different categories depending on the circumstances surrounding the incident. These categories include:

  • First-degree murder: This applies when the victim is killed willfully, deliberately, or with premeditation, or when murder is committed by means of an explosive, poison, or weapon of mass destruction. First-degree murder charges also apply when the felony-murder rule is in effect; under this rule, if someone is committing a felony and another person is killed, it automatically becomes a first-degree murder case. This rule applies to a number of felonies, including arson, robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, rape, lewd acts with a minor, and torture. The felony-murder rule applies whether or not the killing was accidental.
  • Second-degree murder: This applies to any murder that is not first-degree murder. Second-degree murder is willful but not premeditated.
  • Capital murder: This category is characterized by its punishment. Also known as “first-degree murder with special circumstances,” capital murder is punishable by the death penalty or life in prison without parole. Situations that classify as capital murder include killing multiple people; killing someone for financial gain; killing a police officer, prosecutor, juror, judge, firefighter, or elected official; killing someone because of their race, color, religion, nationality, or country of origin; killing someone for gang-related reasons; and killing someone in a drive-by shooting.

The difference between murder and manslaughter hinges on the presence of malice, or intent to do harm. Penal Code Section 188 explains the concept of malice: Such malice may be express or implied. It is express when there is manifested a deliberate intention unlawfully to take away the life of a fellow creature. It is implied, when no considerable provocation appears, or when the circumstances attending the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart. If the prosecuting attorney can prove that there was express or implied malice as described in the statute, no further proof is needed that the killing was intentional. In other words, a murder conviction does not require that the perpetrator demonstrated hatred or ill will toward the victim; rather, the perpetrator must have acted with some sort of wanton disregard for human life that, at least to a reasonable person, carries a high likelihood of death.

California Penal Code Section 192 defines manslaughter as “the unlawful killing of a human being without malice.” Similar to murder, manslaughter is divided into three categories:

  • Voluntary: A killing that occurs upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion
  • Involuntary: A killing that occurs in the commission of a non-felony crime or while committing a lawful act that might produce death without due caution
  • Vehicular: When a driver kills someone while driving in an unlawful way or driving in a lawful way without due caution. Vehicular manslaughter also applies when a driver causes an accident intentionally for financial gain.

Penalties, Punishment, and Sentencing

The punishment for different types of murder and manslaughter are as follows:

  • First-degree murder: 25 years to life in prison
  • Second-degree murder: 15 years to life in prison
  • Capital murder: the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole
  • Voluntary manslaughter: 3, 6, or 11 years in prison
  • Involuntary manslaughter: 2, 3, or 4 years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000
  • Vehicular manslaughter: 2, 4, or 6 years in jail for gross negligence; up to one year in jail for “ordinary negligence

Certain circumstances can increase these penalties, including having a prior conviction for murder, conducting an intentional drive-by shooting, or killing a law enforcement officer.

Legal Defenses

There are a number of legal defenses available for murder and manslaughter charges, including:

  • Self-defense: If, at the time of the killing, you believe that you (or another person) are in danger of being killed, being seriously injured, or being the victim of another serious crime, you could argue the killing was in self-defense.
  • Accidental killing: If the suspect did not intend to do harm and did not act negligently leading up to the killing, he or she could argue the killing was an accident. While this may not help you avoid manslaughter charges, it could prevent you from being charged with murder, which carries much stiffer penalties.
  • Insanity: If the suspect did not understand the nature of the act or could not distinguish between right and wrong at the time of the killing, he or she could plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
  • Police misconduct: Police have a duty to conduct investigations, interrogations, and other proceedings in accordance with the law. Police misconduct can include conducting an illegal search or seizure, coercing a suspect to confess, failing to read Miranda rights, or something else entirely. 

Contact a San Diego Criminal Defense Lawyer

You are more than the charges against you. Don’t let serious accusations like murder or manslaughter affect your life for years to come. An experienced criminal defense attorney like  Peter Blair can help you navigate the criminal justice system and determine the best plan of action for your defense.

When facing serious criminal charges, it is in your best interest to be proactive. The sooner you act, the better your chance of minimizing jail time or avoiding a conviction altogether. Mr. Blair can help develop a sound defense strategy that gives you the best chance at a favorable outcome, and he will fight for you and your freedom.

Don’t let these charges define you. If you are facing charges of murder or manslaughter, contact The Law Office of Peter Blair. Call (619) 357-4977 or contact us online to schedule your free and confidential consultation.