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Homicide Laws in California


If you were arrested and charged with any type of homicide in California, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible to help you understand your rights and build a strong defense strategy. Homicide convictions in California carry intentionally harsh and severe penalties.

Homicide in California

Homicide is defined by law as the act of killing another person, either lawfully or unlawfully. There are two types of criminal homicide: murder and manslaughter.

  • Murder is a homicide where the person had an intent to kill. Specifically, under California Penal Code Section 187, murder is defined as one person killing someone else (including a fetus) with malice aforethought. Malice is defined as the intention or desire to do evil. Therefore, express malice is where one person had a premeditated intention to kill another person, and implied malice is where one person intended to do some sort of bodily harm or endanger the life of another person, without any provocation from the other person.
  • Manslaughter occurs when someone kills another person but without premeditation to do so. There are different degrees of manslaughter in the State of California.


There are three types of murder charges in California: first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and capital murder.

  • First-degree murder and felony murder carry very similar penalties under California law. First-degree murder in California is defined as a premediated killing with malice aforethought. Felony murder is as any murder or death that happens during the commission of a felony crime, such as rape, kidnapping, carjacking, burglary, sodomy, drive-by shooting, robbery, or any other felony. The penalty in California for first-degree murder is 25 years to life in prison.
  • Second-degree murder requires malice and intention; however, it does not require any type of premeditation or deliberation before the crime. Essentially, second-degree murder in California is any murder that is not either first-degree murder, felony murder, or capital murder. The penalty in California for second-degree murder is 15 years to life in prison.
  • Capital Murder is “murder with special circumstances.” There are approximately 20 scenarios that could be charged with capital murder; however, some of the most common include murder for financial gain, the murder of a public servant, murder in a hate crime, murdering a witness to prevent them from testifying, and murder to benefit a street gang. The penalty for capital murder can be life in prison without parole or capital punishment in California.


There are three types of manslaughter charges in California: voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, and vehicular manslaughter.

  • Voluntary manslaughter is when one person kills another person willfully and deliberately, but without any premeditation. These types of cases include “in the heat of the moment” killings. A conviction for voluntary manslaughter can carry up to an 11-year prison sentence.
  • Involuntary manslaughter is the killing of another person without any intent to kill or malice but with conscious disregard for human life. The penalty for involuntary manslaughter in California carries up to a four-year prison sentence.
  • Vehicular manslaughter is the killing of another person in the act of driving. Vehicular manslaughter can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the facts and circumstances of the case.

Contact a Homicide Attorney in California

If you are facing any of these offenses, you are likely terrified. You need the help of an experienced and skilled Los Angeles criminal defense attorney. The attorneys at The Law Office of Stein & Markus, based in Bellflower, have more than 75 years of combined experience in California’s legal system. One of the firm’s co-founders, Joseph A. Markus, is a former deputy district attorney who prosecuted more than 70 murder cases during his career. That kind of experience is invaluable to our clients, because it helps us understand the tactics prosecutors use and what we can do to build strong defenses.

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