There is nothing like a homicide case. It is the highest calling for a criminal defense attorney. A homicide case requires a level of experience and preparation that can only be acquired through dedication and commitment.
As a former prosecutor for over 13 years, I handled thousands of cases, including death penalty trials. If you or a loved one is being charged with murder, you must hire an attorney that has a proven track record handling these types of cases. Having served as a prosecutor on death penalty trials makes me uniquely qualified to handle a murder charge. Call The Rodriguez Law Group to speak with a qualified Los Angeles homicide attorney. We offer a free consultation.
Experienced Homicide Attorney in Los Angeles
Most homicide cases are investigated by elite police units that are well trained and funded and focus solely on homicide cases. There are two types of deputy district attorneys that handle homicide cases, one is seasoned veterans that are assigned to either the Homicide, Gang, or Family Violence Unit or they are up and coming deputy district attorneys that want to prove themselves so they can move up the ranks.
To successfully defend a person accused of murder, his or her homicide attorney must know exactly what he or she is up against. And honestly, the only way to do that is to have been that veteran deputy district attorney in the Homicide Unit.
It is only through that experience and that crucible of pressure that an attorney learns how to obsessively prepare a murder case for trial.
To successfully defend someone of murder, the attorney must:
- know the facts of the case better than the prosecutor or any witness,
- be ready for every scenario that can come up in the courtroom, and
- know the law of homicide better than the prosecutor and the Judge in order to be able to control the direction of the case and bring home the verdict that any accused man deserves: Not Guilty.
And in order for all of that to happen an attorney must have the experience that only comes from having been on the front lines as a Senior Deputy District Attorney in the elite Homicide Unit.
Murder Laws in Los Angeles
The area of law or jurisprudence of homicide is immense and voluminous. This section on homicide is meant as a brief explanation of the jurisprudence of Homicide and the many defenses that are available to someone accused of murder. The fact is, there are numerous ways that a charge of 1st Degree Murder can be turned into a lesser charge and more importantly turned into a verdict of Not Guilty.
The legal definition of homicide is the “unlawful taking of a human life by another.” (California Penal Code 187.) The term Homicide is an umbrella term that encompasses all taking of a human life by another. Whether that Homicide constitutes Murder in the 1st or 2nd Degree or Voluntary or Involuntary Manslaughter is a decision that only a Jury, after having heard both sides can determine.
Finally, what should never be forgotten is that a homicide is not per se a crime. In other words, a homicide can be lawful or unlawful which means that the burden is on the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Homicide was unlawful. It also means that if the jury determines that the Homicide was lawful no crime has been convicted and it is a verdict of Not Guilty.
California Criminal Jury Instruction 500, which the Judge must read to the jury before they deliberate, states, “A homicide can be lawful or unlawful. If a person kills with a legally valid excuse or jurisdiction, the killing is lawful and he or she has not a committed crime.
If there is no legally valid excuse or justification, the killing is unlawful and, depending on the circumstances, the person is guilty of either murder OR manslaughter.”
There are many defenses that can turn the prosecution’s accusation of an unlawful Homicide to a verdict of a lawful Homicide and therefore a Not Guilty verdict. Some examples of these defenses are self-defense, defense of others, heat of passion, and accident (California Criminal Jury Instructions 505, 506, 507, 508, 509, 510, 511.)
Murder in the first degree
The punishment for Murder in the 1st Degree, regardless of the theory under which it is prosecuted, is a mandatory 25 years to Life.
There are several theories under which the District Attorney can convict someone of Murder in the 1st Degree (Penal Code Section 187). The most common theory and the one people are most familiar with through television and the movies, is that the murder was “willful, deliberate and premeditated.” This theory of Murder in the 1st Degree requires the District Attorney to prove Beyond a Reasonable Doubt that the accused:
Acted willfully, deliberately, and with premeditation:
- The defendant acted willfully if he/she intended to kill.
- The defendant acted deliberately if he/she carefully weighed the considerations for and against his/her choice and, knowing the consequences, decided to kill.
- The defendant acted with premeditation if he/she decided to kill before completing the act[s] that caused death.
The length of time the person spends considering whether to kill does not alone determine whether the killing is deliberate and premeditated. The amount of time required for deliberation and premeditation may vary from person to person and according to the circumstances.
A decision to kill made rashly, impulsively, or without careful consideration is not deliberate and premeditated. On the other hand, a cold, calculated decision to kill can be reached quickly. The test is the extent of the reflection, not the length of time.” (California Criminal Jury Instruction 521)
A classic example of Murder in the 1st Degree under this theory would be if someone plans out the murder of someone (for whatever reason, it doesn’t have to be out of hate or for any personal reason), waits for the opportune time to carry it out, and the kills him. Of course, the amount of time that the accused allegedly premeditates and deliberates and the factual context in which that happened is critical in order for the jury to determine whether or not it was actually Murder in the 1st Degree.
Additional Theories Under Which the District Attorney Can Prosecute Someone for Murder in the 1st Degree
Under the following theories, the District Attorney does not have to prove that the murder was “willful, deliberate, and premeditated,” only that it was committed under the circumstances alleged. If the District Attorney can prove that the murder was committed under one of these circumstances the murder is per se (that is by law) Murder in the 1st Degree.
The first such theory is murder by torture. California Criminal Jury Instruction 521 states that, “The defendant murdered by torture if:
- He willfully, deliberately, and with premeditation intended to inflict extreme and prolonged pain on the person killed while that person was still alive;
- He intended to inflict such pain on the person killed for the calculated purpose of revenge, extortion, persuasion, or any sadistic reason;
- The acts causing death involved a high degree of probability of death; and
- The torture was the cause of death.”
Under the torture theory, the District Attorney does not have to prove that the accused ever intended to or had the specific intent to murder someone, only that the accused had the specific intent to torture someone and as a direct result of that torture that person dies.
Murder: lying in wait
Under the Lying in Wait theory, the District Attorney has to prove that the accused murdered while he was “lying in wait.” That means that the actual murder occurred while the accused was in the state of “lying in wait.” California Criminal Jury Instruction 521 requires that the District Attorney prove Beyond a Reasonable Doubt that the accused:
- “Concealed his/her purpose from the person killed;
- Waited and watched for an opportunity to act; and
- Then, for a position of advantage, he/she intended to and did make a surprise attack on the person killed.”
Under this theory, the District Attorney does not have to prove that the accused had the specific intent to kill. The District Attorney only has to prove that the accused deliberately “made a surprise attack on the person killed.” However, that means that the District Attorney has the difficult job of proving that the supposed surprise attack was done deliberately and with premeditation as opposed to arising out of a fight between the two parties or caused by numerous other potential reasons that would place reasonable doubt on the allegation that it was murder via “lying in wait.”
There are three distinct theories of Murder in the 1st Degree that substitute the requirement that the District Attorney prove that the murder was “willful, deliberate and premeditated” for a new requirement that the District Attorney prove that a specific type of weapon, for the lack of a better term, was used to commit the murder in question.
Per California Criminal Jury Instruction 521, if the District Attorney can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the murder weapon was:
- a “destructive device or explosive,”
- “penetrating ammunition” (defined as ammunition “designed primarily to penetrate metal or armor”), or
then by law, the murder is defined as 1st Degree.
Finally, if the District Attorney can prove that the murder was committed “by shooting a firearm from a motor vehicle” then the District Attorney has proven Murder in 1st Degree. In order to prove this, however, the District Attorney must prove Beyond a Reasonable Doubt that the accused:
- “Shot a firearm from a motor vehicle;
- Intentionally shot at a person who was outside the vehicle; and
- He intended to kill that person.”
This section of the California Criminal Jury Instruction 521 was obviously designed to address the issue of drive-by shootings. As such, this theory of Murder in the 1st Degree is most commonly used in gang trials.
Murder Lawyer Serving Los Angeles
If you or a loved one has been charged with homicide, you need a qualified Los Angeles homicide attorney to protect your rights. As a former prosecutor, Mr. Rodriguez has the experience to aggressively defend you. Choosing a qualified homicide lawyer is an important and difficult decision.
Call The Rodriguez Law Group today for a free consultation to discuss your options so that you may obtain the best possible outcome. We are available 24/7 at (800) 852 – 9851.