Many murder cases are prosecuted in Los Angeles County and the San Fernando Valley because of the vast population. There's a lot of action going on, and many of these murders are prosecuted either in the Van Nuys court or the San Fernando court. California Penal Code 187 defines the crime of murder.
If it's a high-profile murder or severe enough, they will send the case to downtown Los Angeles to be prosecuted at the central hub court, 210 West Temple. I've handled hundreds of murder cases over the last 26 years, and I have a pretty good idea of how they're prosecuted. I think the first look is to see whether they can get a murder conviction (CALCRIM 520), and if they feel they can, they will file the case as either first or second-degree murder depending on whether it was planned and what the facts and circumstances are surrounding the case.
Voluntary Manslaughter or Assault with Deadly Weapon
I see many of these murder cases being prosecuted in such a way that they probably shouldn't be. For example, people often really shouldn't be charged with murder, and it's more of a voluntary manslaughter situation or assault with a deadly weapon situation. It shouldn't be prosecuted as a murder case. But the prosecutors — once they slap that murder charge on somebody, put a lot of pressure on that person because now the person is potentially looking at a back-end of life imprisonment.
For second-degree murder, it could be 15 to life imprisonment. For first-degree murder, it can be 25 to life, and if somebody used a weapon, that could add another 25 years potentially on the back of somebody's sentence. So, with those types of numbers being thrown around, that puts the prosecutors in these cases in a strong negotiating position because the person is looking at so much time in custody.
Negotiation with Prosecutor for Reduced Charges
That's why it's so important to get an attorney like me who's been down this road before, had success, knows the value of a case, knows how to win a case, knows when it's time to negotiate a case.
That's crucial when you're in the decision-making process — to be able to have that wisdom to know exactly how to handle the case — what to do, who to speak to, when to fight the case, when not fight the case.
That's really what I have to do when people retain me for a murder case. I have to sit down with the family. I have to sit down with the person who's being charged, and we have to make some hard decisions about whether this is a type of case that we can win at a jury trial or whether this is the type of case we have to negotiate with the prosecutors.
Believe it or not, sometimes that decision in a murder case is made for us. The prosecutors say we're not offering anything. If your client wants to plead, he can take 15 to life. Otherwise, we take the case to trial. In that case, you have no choice but to defend the case.
Deciding with Client How They Want to Proceed
So, the first decision that I'm trying to make when I sit down with my client and the family to talk about a murder case is, how will we proceed? Are we going to try to fight the case? Are we going to try to resolve the issue? Is it wise to have an eye to resolve the matter but to damage the case at the preliminary hearing?
These are the types of conversations we're having. I've got to have all the evidence from the prosecutors. I have to review that. I have to speak to the prosecutors to see what their position is. Then I'll sit down with my client and say, here's what the prosecutor is saying. Here's what the evidence looks like. You tell me what's going on from your perspective, and I will put that all together with my experience.
I've having handled murder cases in California for the last 26 years, having worked for the DA's office, having worked for a Superior Court judge, and has been a criminal defense attorney since 1994, I can decide for a client. I can help the client make the right decision regarding these types of cases, and trust me, it's crucial what types of moves and decisions you make because it will alter the rest of your life if you're being charged with murder.