Full Review of All The Details of the Murder Case

I've handled murder cases throughout Los Angeles County for twenty-five years now. This includes the courthouse of San Fernando, Van Nuys, Pasadena, Glendale, and Malibu, which has directly transferred all the cases to the LAX court. Law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges treat these cases very seriously.

They typically put the best police officers and detectives on investigating these cases, and they will spend unlimited funds. Further, some special prosecutors are assigned murder cases, and they are usually more experienced than regular prosecutors in the criminal courts in Los Angeles County. When I defend murder cases under California Penal Code 187, I take a multi-prong approach. First, I want to know about my client, his life, and what led them to become involved in the situation. I get a complete background of the individual.

Sometimes I will use a psychologist or psychiatrist to author a report related to my client in whatever issues I feel are relevant either to help defend the case or to use the information in some way if there is any mental defense in the case. There are many mental reasons when it comes to a murder case. I've had success with insanity defenses. I've had a shield with people being intoxicated and not forming the intent necessary for a specific murder case.

Of course, voluntary intoxication is only relevant and viable as a defense in California if the reason can show that the defendant is charged with a specific intent crime that the voluntary intoxication inhibited or blocked the defendant from being able to form the clear intent to kill. For example, when it comes to murder or attempted murder. These defenses are a bit complicated and don't apply to every case, and have to be evaluated and looked at on a case-by-case basis.

Self-Defense Argument in PC 187 Murder Cases

For over 26 years now, I've defended people who have been charged with murder, and I've used various defenses.  California Penal Code 187 describes the crime of murder. A lot of the reasons depend on the facts and circumstances of the case.

You can't just force a defense on a case.  It has to make sense, and you have to have its facts.  If you don't have the points and can't defend the case, you've worked out a resolution with the prosecutors. The two most potent defenses that I've seen and that constantly come up in a murder case (CALCRIM 520) are self-defense, and number two, I'm not the person who committed the murder.  Those are the two main ones you're going to see.

As far as self-defense goes, you're going to have to be able to show that if you're the one that killed the other party, then it's a homicide.  It's justifiable, and it doesn't rise to the level of an unlawful killing, also known as murder.  See CALCRIM 505 – Justifiable Homicide: Self-Defense or Defense of Another.

The way you prove that, in my opinion, one word rings accurate and complex that's reasonableness.  If you acted reasonably under the circumstances of whatever was going on. Whatever the case may be, a shooting, a fight, you can argue that you were defending yourself and should be charged with murder, that the killing was justifiable. All you were doing was protecting yourself from the other party.

You've got to have the facts and circumstances and the witnesses.  A jury has to look at everything and say, yeah, it's a shame this person is dead, but they brought about their death, for example.  They attacked the other party first. All the other party did was defend themselves, and the intent was not proven to convict.  If the other party hadn't protected themselves, they might have been killed under the circumstances of this particular case.

Lesser Charge of Voluntary Manslaughter

If you can mount an argument like this, now you're in the ballpark of trying to win your murder case and get a not-guilty verdict, which is the best or gets some mitigated crime. For example, voluntary manslaughter is a crime that used to be substituted for murder.  Voluntary manslaughter is described under California Penal Code 192(a).

Defenses for Murder Charges in Los Angeles

If you can't get the prosecutors to negotiate and agree to it, you can often get a jury to find the person not guilty of murder but guilty of voluntary manslaughter.  See CALCRIM 571 – Voluntary Manslaughter: Imperfect Self-Defense – Lesser Included Offense. Of course, it's got to be the good case and the right circumstances.

So, self-defense is probably the number one defense when it comes to murder cases, at least that I've seen, and I've done a lot of them over the years, and believe it or not, it's a tiny group of attorneys that handle murder cases.

Many attorneys, at least from what I've seen, are either too afraid to handle a murder case because there's too much at stake or don't have the experience.  Maybe they'd like to do the issue, but they haven't done enough. I get a lot of attorneys calling me and trying to get on cases that I'm on so that they can see how a murder case is defended and figure out what it takes to be successful.

Insufficient Evidence To Convict on Murder Charges

The other important defense is I'm not the person who committed the murder.  In other words, we can see the guy was murdered, but I didn't do it.  You don't have the proof that I did it, and that's where many different factors come into play when the prosecutors are trying to prove a particular murder case. This is commonly known as an “insufficient evidence” defense.

For example, eyewitnesses.  Do the eyewitnesses identify your client, either from a six-pack or a live line-up?  The authorities don't do a lot of live line-ups.  They believe that it's hard sometimes for victims, especially in stressful situations, to identify somebody in a murder case.

But the defense, under the right circumstances, should file a Line-Up Motion and force the prosecutors and police to do a live line-up and hope your client is not identified. If your client is not recognized, now you have one good argument.

The witness saw the person face to face and could not identify them.  So, identification is a big issue when it comes to a “who done it” case, and you're arguing that your client is not the one who did it. Another big thing is stuff like DNA, fingerprints, and gunshot residue.  These are all things that I see in murder cases.  Another big thing that these guys are using is ping evidence.

They're tracking people's phones to put them close to a murder scene to try to make a chain of evidence that circumstantially points to the person's guilt. If they make the chain strong enough, they can argue at the end of the closing statement in a jury trial; that this person must be the one beyond a reasonable doubt that was murdered in this particular case.

Now you can start seeing where a great criminal defense attorney can come in because we can get evidence on the other side.  We can get out own DNA experts, fingerprint experts — whatever the expert may be to mount an argument that this person should not be charged with murder.

They don't have the evidence.  We put on our evidence and combat some of the prosecutor's evidence. We can argue that my client is not the one who committed this murder, and they have not proved the case beyond a reasonable doubt, and then try to seek that not-guilty verdict.

How Do Juries In Handle Murder Cases?

From my years of experience in defending and trying cases in front of juries, I would say that the Los Angeles courthouses have very conservative jurors. Many are retired and older and have a very dim view of people committing violent felonies. That said, since the jury service has gone to a one-day service where most people are ordered to be involved in jury service, it's more challenging to escape jury service.

I think that has eased up the conservatism related to trying to defend these murder cases because a much larger pool has become available to the defense when it comes to these murder charges. So, when it comes to a murder charge and a jury pool and how to handle the voir dire, which is the question and answer element of picking a jury where jurors are asked by the judge questions about their fairness and capability to serve.

Then the attorneys are allowed to ask questions during the voir dire in one of these murder cases, and this really – if done the right way – can give you a good feel for how conservative and how fair the jury is going to be when it comes to a murder case. Many jurors go into these murder cases already believing that the person is guilty simply because they're charged with a murder case and because the prosecutors have filed charges against them.

This is up to the defense attorney to clarify that just because somebody is charged with a murder case doesn't necessarily mean that they're guilty. One of the first steps I take is no. 1, identifying those jurors who will already be biased against my client just because they are charged with murder.

So, making it clear to them that our criminal justice system is one of the best and most fair in the world, and part of the reason is that a person is presumed innocent unless the prosecutors can prove otherwise. So, if they're asked to vote on whether the person is innocent or guilty at the beginning of a case, they would have to vote innocent because they haven't heard any of the evidence yet.

Further, the person is presumed innocent of the murder charge, and to think otherwise would violate the law, violate their duties as a juror, and would not be fair. They wouldn't want one of their family members or even themselves prosecuted and dealt with unfairly where people are already assuming they're guilty before they hear any of the evidence in a murder case.

Ways People Can Be Charged With Murder in California

Well, believe it or not, there are many different angles, and many fact patterns that can come up that can trigger a murder charge. For example, in today's society, as I write this post, anybody drinking or driving with alcohol in their system, which kills another person, will be charged with second-degree murder. That's the first thing the prosecutors do.

A lot of times, I've been able to get a not guilty verdict on the murder charge, and some lesser amount if the person was drinking and driving and killed somebody, or even convince the prosecutors to offer a resolution that does not include a murder conviction, but of course, have fifteen to life. So, this is one way you can be charged with murder.

It's happening more and more as the prosecutors realize that everybody in society should know that when you drink and drive, people can die, and that's why they're charging murder instead of some vehicular manslaughter charge. Another way you could be charged with murder is if you plan a murder.

This would be a first-degree murder charge. Even if you solicit a murder – meaning that you either hire someone or convince them to kill another person – that solicitation of a murder could be charged as murder as though you committed the murder yourself. The difference between first and second-degree murder is planning and deliberating, thinking about killing someone, and then putting the plan in motion versus someone who becomes angry during a sudden quarrel and kills someone.

Then the issue will be that more of voluntary manslaughter or some other charge versus a murder charge is going to boil down to whether the person under the circumstances had time to think about killing another person. The thought process can be quick even for second-degree murder as far as planning things and making a quick decision to kill another person. Still, the best criminal defense attorneys know how to defend these second-degree murder cases and precisely what it takes to win them.

Contact Our Murder Defense Lawyers for Help

To me, in that scenario, it's either an all-or-nothing.  If they believe your person was there and committed the murder, they will get hit with murder.  If they think that your person was not there, it's a not-guilty. To try to get voluntary manslaughter, making that argument is challenging.  Not impossible, but difficult because maybe you can argue, in the abstract, that if my client was the one who committed this murder, it's not a murder.

It's voluntary manslaughter, and here's why.  But that's an insensitive argument because your client can't come and testify, yeah, I didn't commit the murder, but if I did commit the murder, this is what happened.  That's not going to work.  It's an all-or-nothing situation.

So, there are several different theories and ways when you look at the totality of the circumstances of a case that someone can be charged with murder in California.  If you or a loved one is accused of murder, you should get to an attorney who has handled these cases, knows the local Los Angeles and San Fernando Valley court system, and knows how to win the case or get a lesser charge.

So, if you or a loved one is charged with murder and are looking to spend the rest of their life in prison, you'd better get to the best and get to them quickly.  Pick up the phone.  Make the call.  Take the first step in defending your murder case. Hedding Law Firm is a criminal defense law firm with decades of combined experience located at 16000 Ventura Blvd #1208 Encino, CA 91436. 

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