San Fernando Valley Murder Defense Lawyer


Early in my criminal defense career I decided that I wanted to try some of the most serious cases in San Fernando and Van Nuys, CA so that I could be as much experience as possible and be the be criminal defense attorney around.

This was almost 25 years ago and I tried a lot of murder cases both from a trial stand point and a negotiation point of view. What I noticed is that one the prosecutors in San Fernando Valley Courts file a murder charge against someone, they usually will not back off the charge and I ended up trying many murder cases to a jury. This gave me the experience I was looking for and has honed me into the trial attorney I am today.

In my opinion, murder cases, under California Penal Code 187, are the ones that require the best criminal defense attorneys who are ready to pull out all of the stops for their clients. The prosecutors will usually assign their best attorneys to these cases and will spare no expense in there prosecution. This also means they play to win and a defense attorney who wants to challenge them better be up to the task or them and their client will end up getting steam rolled over.

I am a firm believer in getting right to the point in these cases and not mixing words when it comes to the defense of my clients. You will find that juries appreciate it when you lead with your best argument and do ask a bunch of questions, just to ask questions and look like you are doing something.

I only challenge the witnesses that actually have something important to do with the case. If the witness is a meaningless witness that does not damage my client’s position, then I rarely will waste the juries attention on the witness just so I can ask a bunch of meaningless questions.

When it comes my turn to ask questions, I want the jury to say, “Oh here we go, some action that we can really pay attention to.” By the end of the trial they will know that I am serious about representing my client, will get right to the point and am not messing around.


Many times I see murder cases over filed and tell the prosecutors that they should not have charged my client with murder under the circumstances of the particular case. Sometimes I will show them the issues with their case, other times I will not, if I believe they are never going to get rid of the murder charge and will just use the information I give them to try and fix their case.

Believe it or not this happens all of the time. I show them that a witness has lied or embellished their story and instead consider it to resolve the case, they talk to the witness and try and help them fix their story. It has taken me many years to perfect when to talk to them, what to say and when to simply keep my mouth show and destroy their witness and case.

Murder is the most serious crime and most people convicted of murder will never be released from prison. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that you hire an attorney that has extensive experience dealing with murder charges. We not only have a combined 75 years of experience but also have the skill, knowledge, and tactic that far exceed other criminal defense attorneys in the San Fernando Valley.

General Information:

Murder cases are difficult to defend because the system treats them with a high level of resources by assigning the best detectives and the best prosecutors. Because a life has been lost in a murder case, public policy demands that the prosecutors do everything they can to convict the person facing the murder charges.

They have plenty of resources available to them to get the job done and there are very few defense attorneys that can match them…that is where our San Fernando Valley Criminal Attorneys at the Hedding Law Firm come in.

First degree murder is when an intentional death results due to malice aforethought, premeditation, and deliberation and can result in:

  • Life imprisonment or the death penalty
  • No possibility of parole

Second degree murder is a homicide that is intentional, without malice, premeditation, or deliberation and takes place in the heat of passion and can result in:

  • Life imprisonment
  • Possibility of parole after 15 years served

If you are being charged with murder in any degree, the fact of the matter is that retaining an aggressive, experienced criminal defense attorney is crucial to the outcome of your case. We have not only handled murder cases but have gotten cases reduced and even dismissed due to our persuasive and aggressive defense strategy.

Your constitutional rights are very important to us! We will do everything we possibly can to get you the most favorable results. Contact our Murder Attorneys in Van Nuys and set up a free consultation.

One of Ronald Hedding’s Case Results

Our client was charged with first degree murder and a number of other serious crimes. He admitted to the police that he fired the weapon (that was recovered and test fired…and determined by an expert to be the weapon that was used in the killing).

After an approximately week long trial, the jury found our client not guilty of murder and all other charges. Before the trial, because of the overwhelming evidence, the defense offered to plead guilty to second degree murder which would have carried a sentence of 15 years to life, and the head prosecutor refused. This case is an example of what a skilled defense attorney can do to an unprepared / out matched prosecutor’s case.

Penal Code 187 – Murder

The charge of Murder is defined in California as “The unlawful killing of a human being or fetus with malice aforethought” (CA Penal Code 187). Malice aforethought means that the one committing the act intended to kill, their actions naturally would lead to the death of another, and they acted with conscious disregard for human life. In California, we have adopted 3 different degrees of murder which affect the sentencing of anyone found guilty.


A person can be convicted of 1st degree murder if they perform any of the following three acts:

  1. Committed murder while using poison, explosives, armor piercing ammunition, torture or by waiting for a person.
  2. Murdering willfully, pre-meditated, and deliberately.
  3. Murdering while in the commission of felony arson, robbery, burglary, carjacking, train wrecking, kidnapping, mayhem, torture, rape, sodomy, forcible penetration, OR lewd acts with a minor.


A person can be found for second degree murder for any murder that is not deliberate or premeditated. This degree can be applied through the commission of a felony where someone died as a result. However, it only covers felonies that cannot be committed without creating substantial risk of death or harm to another.


Capital Murder is a form of a first degree murder that is performed any of the following enhancements:

  1. Murdering a Police officer, Firefighter, Juror, Judge, Prosecutor, or elected official
  2. Murder by a drive by
  3. Multiple murder
  4. Murder for race, color, religion, etc.
  5. Murder for financial gain.

Capital murder is punished more heavily than standard first degree murder. Those found for this charge will be sentenced either to death or state prison for life without possibility of parole.

California Jury Instruction 520 Murder or Homicide – Penal Code Section 187

California jury instruction 520 covers the crime of murder in Los Angeles.  If you or a loved one is charged with the crime of murder in Los Angeles, obviously you want to know what the jury instruction is related to that, because that will control whether or not the person is found innocent or guilty.

Before the case is even heard, the Judge will usually review with the jury what the jury instruction is related to murder in a case pending in one of the San Fernando Valley  courts, and of course, that instruction is read to them before they deliberate, and they can take the instruction back with them.

Having done over 200 trials in Los Angeles county and defended many homicide/murder cases, I’ve dealt with these jury instructions all the time and I go over them with my client, especially if my client is going to testify because a lot of time what the client says in some of the elements is crucial for the jury in determining whether they are innocent or guilty of the crime.  You have to know what the prosecutors have to prove in order to convict you for a murder charge before you can actually set out to defend it.

Committing the Act Causing Death

So, when it comes to the elements of a murder charge, a judge is going to say to a jury, the defendant is charged with whatever count with murder in violation of Penal Code Section 187.

To prove if defendant is guilty of this crime, the people or the government or the prosecutors are going to have to prove (1) that the defendant committed an act that caused the death of another.

So, when you look at this first element, you have to ask yourself – whatever the defendant did, did that result in the death of another?  Sometimes I’ve seen people go in and they fire a weapon at somebody and they miss, and somebody fires back and somebody ends up getting killed that doesn’t have anything to do with what’s going on.

So, this starts to get a little bit confusing as to whether or not the defendant is responsible for that.  If you go in and you try to commit a felony, and it you end up with somebody else gets killed that’s foreseeable under the felony/murder Rule.

You’re going to be held responsible for the murder.  So, this starts to get complicated.  It sounds real easy, but sometimes people cause their own death.  Sometimes other people are responsible for it.

There’s all sorts of scenarios when it comes to this first element and the best way to handle it is you have to sit down with a seasoned criminal defense attorney who has done these trials before.  I’ve sat in many a jury trial and I’ve also argued these jury instructions – not just in front of a jury, but to the judge to try to change the jury instructions sometimes to fit the case better.  So, this is a crucial thing.

State of Mind  – Malice of Forethought

As far as the second element goes, the prosecutors have to show that when the defendant acted, he or she had a state of mind called malice of forethought.  This gets a little bit tricky because that means you have to have the intent to kill somebody.  You have to be thinking, I want this person killed.

Sometimes people are thinking that their trying to defend themselves.  Sometimes whatever the person did is a justifiable or excusable homicide or murder.  So, the act has to go with the state of mind as well.

So, the state of mind has to be that you were thinking – you had malice in forethought, meaning you were thinking of killing the person.  You planned it and you executed the plan and this element of murder would be met.  But there’s all sorts of scenarios.  I’ve seen this element argued as well – that the person really didn’t have any malice of forethought – didn’t have any problems with the person – wasn’t trying to kill the person.

So, this is something you have to sit down with a seasoned criminal defense attorney again.  Go over it and really sit down and think about it before you make a decision whether to go to jury trial on a murder case in LA county.

Killed Without Justification

The next element that has to be proved is that the person involved killed without lawful excuse or justification.  And that gets a little tricky again, because if you’re defending yourself against someone who is trying to kill you and you use deadly force I order to defend yourself, then you could be held not guilty because you have a self-defense.

If you’re defending another, that would be another justifiable homicide.  So, there’s circumstances where somebody gets killed and the reality is that person that is being charged with the murder is not guilty because they have an excuse.

They have a justification under the law, and again, there’s so many different factors that go into whether or not you have an excuse, a justification or a defense.  Again, that’s when you have to sit down with your criminal defense attorney – someone’s who been down this road before, had success, knows how to fight these cases at a jury trial level, has handled many murder cases and knows how to go up against some of these seasoned prosecutors who are going to be dealing with the murder case.

Deliberate Act – No Regard for Human Life

The next element is that the person has to deliberately act with conscience disregard for human life.  This is where that malice of forethought comes in.  You really have to be acting in a very dangerous manner.  Sometimes what happens is people have a good argument – I didn’t intend to kill the person.

I wasn’t really trying to kill the person necessarily, but it just ended up happening.  Now, if you’re doing some dangerous activity that could kill another person and then the person ends up dying and it was foreseeable to you that the person could die because of your dangerous activity, like throwing knives, firing weapons recklessly out in the street.

These are things that could definitely be a natural and probable consequence that death could occur and if you do that and the jury determines that you did act with conscience disregard, then this could suffice for malice of forethought.

Sometimes there’s express malice – someone got mad, they pulled out a gun, they fired and tried to kill somebody.  Other times, it’s a little bit more technical than that.  It’s implied malice where you look at what the person did.  It was foreseeable that what they did was going to cause a death and it ended up causing a death.

Contact a Murder Defense Lawyer

So, as you can see there’s some complex and serious concerns when it comes to murder cases.  This cases are not simple and the prosecutors don’t have an easy time either, but if you want to have any chance of getting a full defense in a criminal case that involves murder/homicide and you’ve got defenses like a self-defense excuse or other things that make more sense to the facts of your case, you’ve got to sit down with somebody who has been doing this for a long time and can design a plan to give you the best chance to fight and win your murder case in San Fernando Valley.