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Defense for Murder Charges in Monterey & the Surrounding Counties

If you, your friend, or a family member are being investigated for, have been arrested for, or are presently charged with a homicide offense, it is imperative to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. Homicide cases present some of the greatest challenges to a legal practitioner, and require handling with skill, experience, and knowledge of criminal law and procedure, forensic investigation techniques, complex evidentiary issues, and mental health and substance abuse, to name a few.

Please contact Law Offices of William V. Pernik for a free and confidential consultation. Experienced representation is just a phone call away.

Murder

Under California Penal Code section 187(a), “Murder” is defined as “the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.” The term “malice” is defined under Penal Code section 188, stating: “Such malice can be express or implied. It is express when there is manifested a deliberate intention unlawfully to take away the life of a fellow creature. It is implied, when no considerable provocation appears, or when the circumstances attending the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.”

The most serious type of murder is murder in the first degree, which can be punishable by death, imprisonment in the state prison for life without parole, or imprisonment in the state prison for a term of 25 years to life. With some statutory exceptions, second-degree murders carry a punishment of imprisonment in the state prison for a term of 15 years to life. (Cal. Penal Code Code section 190 (a). Depending on the circumstances of the offense and the manner in which it was committed, additional sentencing enhancements may apply to either first or second-degree murder.

First Degree vs. Second Degree Murder

For a murder to qualify as a “murder in the first degree,” it must meet the requirements of Penal Code section 189. That statute recognizes three types of first degree murders:

  • Any kind of willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing
  • Any killing that is perpetrated by means of a destructive device or explosive, a weapon of mass destruction, knowing use of armor-piercing ammunition, poison, lying-in-wait, or torture
  • Any “felony-murder”, defined as a killing that is committed in the perpetration, or attempted perpetration, of arson, rape, carjacking, robbery, burglary, mayhem, kidnapping, train wrecking, any act punishable under section 20, 286, 288, 288(a), or 289 of the Penal Code, or a discharging a firearm from motor vehicle with the intent to inflict death.

Any other kind of murder that is not in the first degree is a second-degree murder. (Cal. Penal Code section 189.) This includes intentional killings that lack sufficient evidence of deliberation or premeditation, as well as unintentional killings committed when the defendant does a deliberate act, the natural consequences of which are dangerous to life, with knowledge that this conduct endangers the life of others, and who consciously disregards that risk to life.

“DUI-Murder” or “Watson” Murder

A “Watson” murder is a special type of implied malice murder, which is commonly charged by the District Attorney’s Office when the killing is committed by an intoxicated driver while operating an automobile. Watson murder prosecutions are based on the legal theory that driving while under the influence of alcohol is conduct that is inherently dangerous to human life. Therefore, a person who is aware of the dangers of driving under the influence and who consciously ignores those risk is acting with implied malice.

Generally speaking, Watson murder prosecutions are reserved for repeat DUI offenders. However, depending on the circumstances of the crime, and the extent of bad driving, it is possible to be prosecuted for a second-degree murder even without any prior notice. If convicted of a DUI murder or “Watson” murder, the defendant faces a punishment of 15 years to life, subject to additional enhancement. Because neither “diminished capacity” nor “voluntary intoxication” are available as a defense in a “Watson murder” case, it is not possible under the current law to argue that the defendant was too drunk to harbor the mental state equivalent to “implied malice.”

Gross Vehicular Manslaughter and Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated

In cases where evidence is not sufficient to show that the defendant acted with implied malice, it may nonetheless be possible for the prosecutor to prove that the defendant had committed a lesser offense of either Gross Vehicular Manslaughter or a simple Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated.

  • Vehicular manslaughter requires proof of only ordinary negligence, defined as a failure to use reasonable care to prevent reasonably foreseeable harm to self or others.
  • Gross vehicular manslaughter occurs when a person acts with gross negligence when He or she acts in a reckless way that creates a high risk of death or great bodily injury and when a reasonable person would have known that acting in that way would create such a risk

If convicted of only vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, a defendant would typically receive a punishment of 16 months, 2 years, or 4 years. In contrast, a person convicted of a gross vehicular manslaughter would be facing a punishment of 4, 6, or 10 years. In addition, if a person convicted of a gross vehicular manslaughter had sustained one or more prior DUI conviction, the mandatory punishment will be 15 years to life in the state prison.

Other Types of Manslaughter

Manslaughter is defined by Penal Code section 192 as any “unlawful killing of a human being without malice.” A homicide can either be charged as a manslaughter outright, or reduced to a manslaughter by the trier of fact if the government is unable to prove that the killing was committed with malice.

The three types of manslaughter under California Penal Code section 192 are:

  • Voluntary Manslaughter – killing committed in the heat of passion, upon a sudden quarrel, or in imperfect self-defense;
  • Involuntary Manslaughter – killing in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, or a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner or without due caution and circumspection; or
  • Vehicular Manslaughter – driving a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act not amounting to a felony, and with gross negligence OR driving a vehicle in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, but in an unlawful manner, and with gross negligence.

The punishment for manslaughter is substantially lower than the punishment for murder. Under Penal Code section 193, voluntary manslaughter is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for 3, 6, or 11 years. Involuntary manslaughter is punishable by imprisonment in the local jail for 2, 3, or 4 years. The punishment for most vehicular manslaughters without intoxication can range from up to 1 year in local jail to imprisonment in the state prison for 2, 4, or 6 years, and in some cases involving crimes committed for financial gain, for as much as 10 years.

Start Planning Your Defense Strategy

Being charged with any type of homicide is a nerve-wracking, life-altering experience. At the Law Offices of William V. Pernik, we understand the seriousness of your situation, and are committed to handling it with the highest degree of attention and care. Whether it involves deployment of our most trusted private investigators or consulting with appropriate experts in relevant forensic fields, we are prepared to meet the challenges your case presents, and will apply all of our skill and knowledge to craft the best possible legal defense for you.

Time is of the essence in these cases. Please do not hesitate to contact our homicide defense attorney in Salinas if you or someone you care about is charged with this type of crime. Call Law Offices of William V. Pernik today at (831) 269-5353 to request your confidential legal consultation.

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