What Intent Is Necessary To Convict Somebody Of Murder?

Posted by Ronald D. HeddingDec 31, 2018

This is an interesting question regarding California Penal Code 187 PC murder cases in Los Angeles and throughout the San Fernando Valley.  I've tried a lot of them over the last twenty-five years, and I find this issue coming up more and more when it comes to a murder charge, and that is, the person either claims they did not have the intent to kill anybody or they claim sort of self-defense mixed in with whatever happened.

What Intent Is Necessary To Convict Somebody Of Murder?

These cases center around their facts.  In other words, you can't just make some general rule and expect it to cover everything.  In human affairs, all sorts of different things can occur, especially in a murder charge.  So, you have to look at the facts and then make a judgment call as to whether the prosecutors will be able to prove intent. 

There are a couple of different degrees of murder.  There's first-degree murder where somebody decides they're going to kill somebody and then goes out and executes the plan to kill them, and the prosecutors have the evidence to prove this.

Second Degree Murder

Then there's a spontaneous killing, a second-degree murder where somebody very quickly becomes angry and forms the intent to kill and then kills another person.  But that doesn't answer the question because sometimes the person who gets killed is doing something on their end, which can cause defense in the case that can cause the person to become extremely angry, and maybe there's a lesser charge like voluntary manslaughter

So, we need to look at those facts and circumstances. I find myself saying to clients, " Well, you can't do that, and no, that's not reasonable.  That's the standard.  Simplistic as that may sound, you look at what happened and say to yourself, could they do that? 

I mean, is that right under those circumstances?  And often you're like, no, we can't live in a society like that where somebody is hit or punched, and then they snap and get a gun and shoot somebody.  You can't do that.

Prosecutor Has Burden Of Proof

But sometimes, the lines are much closer to murder-related offenses, and sometimes there are defenses.  I mean, this is where you need the help of an excellent criminal defense attorney who has done murder cases, seen what juries focus on when they decide these cases because what ends up happening is you do the jury trial in the murder case, and the prosecutors because they have the burden put on all their evidence. Then the defense gets an opportunity to cross-examine and attack the credibility of all their witnesses.

After the prosecution is done, the defense gets a chance to put on their evidence.  Ultimately, there will be closing arguments by the parties, and then the jury is going to decide.  But, before the jury chooses to, they will be given jury instructions.  In a murder case, they're going to have to be able to find that the prosecutors proved what's called malice of forethought, which means that the person had time to think and reflect and made the decision to kill another person unlawfully.

If somebody fires a weapon at you and you decide to fire back, you have the malice of forethought.  You were trying to kill them, but you were trying to get them before they got you.  That can be a self-defense claim.  So, these cases are not as simple as everybody thinks.

Sometimes there's more than meets the eye.  Sometimes the prosecutors don't have all the evidence.  That's unfortunate when the authorities only do a one-sided investigation, which I see happening in many of these murder cases.  They're not getting the other available evidence that can put things into context and give you a good feel for what happened.

Defense Strategy By Criminal Lawyer

And that's where the criminal defense attorney and the defendant need to sit down, huddle up, and figure out what happened, why it happened, and whether there are any defenses.  Sometimes there are defenses, and you put those defenses together.

You put your investigation together, and you take the case to trial and try to win it. Other times you realize there's too much evidence against me.  I have to have my attorney work a deal out for me; otherwise, I'm going to run the risk of getting twenty-five to life, fifteen to life — there are some significant stakes involved in murder cases in Los Angeles.

So, the bottom line is this – if you've got a murder case and you're trying to figure out what to do, or one of your loved ones has a murder case – you have to find an attorney who has handled these types of cases before successfully.  In other words, there aren't many attorneys in my experience in LA County and the San Fernando Valley that even like to touch murder cases because so much is on the line.  A lot of attorneys simply don't have the stomach for it.  So, it would help if you found somebody who has done these cases before.

That's where I think I have a massive advantage over a lot of these attorneys who are either afraid of doing these types of murder charges or who don't know how to try a murder case – don't know how to argue this intent issue which is a big issue — whether somebody had the intent to kill another person and whether or not they have a defense related to the case.

So, if you've got a murder case or have a loved one who has a murder case, we sit down and go over everything.  I'll either visit him in county jail, or we can come face to face in my office and see what I can do to help you based on the circumstances of your case. We specialize in the Van Nuys and San Fernando Superior Courts. Call our law firm to review your case.