When someone is facing criminal charges for murder or assault, they are being accused of intentionally trying to hurt or kill someone else. These are serious charges that have punitive, long-term consequences if the accused is convicted.
However, there are times when someone intentionally tries to hurt or kill someone else and the law does not hold them criminally responsible. The motivation of the accused at the time of the incident is a key component in determining the degree of offense and whether there is a valid defense to the charges.
California law says that people who are justifiably afraid for their own safety may use any reasonable means to protect themselves – and that can include taking the life of another.
The California self-defense for murder or assault attorney at the Law Offices of Graham Donath is a certified specialist in criminal law who devotes 100% of his practice to criminal defense. Call 951-667-5293 in Riverside or 714-758-5293 in Orange County to schedule a free criminal defense consultation.
Murder and assault are serious crimes with significant penalties. Convictions for serious crimes can not only impact your freedom but can be detrimental to future employment, education, and housing opportunities. You want someone on your side who can provide the best possible defense to the charges you are facing.
Self-Defense Attorney Graham Donath is a uniquely qualified criminal defense attorney.
The criminal justice system is in place to enforce the laws and bring to justice those who violate them. There are formal procedures that must be followed and standard practices that are well known to those who work within the system.
An experienced criminal defense lawyer knows how to analyze the circumstances of a crime and build a defense strategy giving you the best chance of successfully defending the charges against you. Your attorney will do any of the following to protect your rights and defend your freedom.
To be convicted of either murder or assault, the prosecution must prove that the conduct was intentional and it was intended to be bad. An assault requires an intention to injure and murder requires an intention to kill.
The terms homicide and murder are often used interchangeably, but they do not mean the same thing under California law. When someone kills another person, a homicide has occurred. But not all homicides are murders. It is the badness of a person’s intentions that determines whether a killing is murder or some lesser form of homicide. The California Penal Code states:
Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.
Malice means having a general desire to do something evil. Aforethought suggests the evil was something that had been contemplated prior to its occurrence. Establishing that a person acted with malice can be shown by specific actions directed at the victim or by general actions that demonstrate indifference to the life of another.
The term abandoned and malignant heart does not have a generally understood definition, so the California courts have offered the following to help juries determine whether to find implied malice.
Once malice has been established, California law determines the degree of murder that can be charged based on the level of malice that was involved.
All murders that are committed with a ‘destructive device’ or that are ‘willful, deliberate or premeditated’ are first-degree murders. First-degree murders also include murders that occur during the commission or attempted commission of other felony crimes.
All murders that do not fall within the definition of first-degree murder are second-degree murders.
An attempted murder is charged when an accused person:
The direct step taken must be an action that demonstrates the killing would have occurred but for circumstances outside the perpetrator’s control that prevented it.
California is a state that still has death as a penalty for a first-degree murder conviction.
However, the last time an execution took place in the state was in 2006. In 2019, Governor Newsom put a moratorium on death row executions repealing the state’s lethal injection protocol and closing the execution chamber at San Quentin.
Current laws impose the following penalties for first and second-degree murder convictions.
When certain ‘special circumstances’ are present, the sentence for a first-degree murder conviction must be either death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The starting place for penalties for attempted crimes is one-half of the sentence imposed for committing the crime. In the case of attempted first-degree murder, the penalty is life in prison with the possibility of parole. For all other attempted crimes that have death or life in prison without parole as penalties if committed, the penalties are imprisonment for 5, 7, or 9 years.
The prosecution has the responsibility of proving all of the elements necessary for a conviction and must persuade a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. If the defense can create reasonable doubt as to the defendant’s guilt, there won’t be a conviction.
The law also recognizes that there are times when a person’s conduct meets the definition of murder or assault but criminal penalties should not be imposed. Under such circumstances, a defendant has an affirmative defense to the charges. The defendant admits to the conduct but offers a justification that the law recognizes to avoid criminal penalties.
People have a legal right to defend themselves against having harm inflicted upon them by others. The law also recognizes a legal right to defend others and to defend a home from invasion. When someone kills another in lawful defense of a person or property, the law says the killing was justified and no criminal penalties are imposed.
California considers homicide justifiable under the following circumstances:
While all states recognize self-defense as a justification for killing someone, not all states agree on the attendant circumstances that must exist for self-defense to be a valid defense. There are three main legal doctrines regarding when force can be used in self-defense.
California takes the modified stand your ground approach and allows people to defend their homes from those who unlawfully and forcibly enter. The law presumes that a person using deadly force within their residence did so with a reasonable fear of imminent death or severe bodily injury to themselves or someone else in the home.
A defense of self-defense is still possible when two people have been fighting as long as the person claiming self-defense made it clear to the other that the fight was over. To claim self-defense in a mutual combat situation all of the following must be proven by a defendant.
The need to withdraw from the fight is not necessary to claim self-defense when a defendant had used only non-deadly force but the opponent suddenly introduced deadly force into the fight.
In order to establish self-defense as a valid defense to murder or assault charges, a defendant must prove that the circumstances leading up to the homicide justified the killing. In California, a defendant must show:
The key issues in building a strong defense to murder or assault charges with self-defense will include establishing the nature and immediacy of the threat and the reasonableness of using force as an acceptable means of defending against it.
A compelling and detailed account of the events must convince a jury that the force used by a defendant was a justified reaction to an imminent life-threatening danger. At every step in the process, the prosecution will be trying to discount and discredit the defense. That’s why it is extremely important to understand where a defense is vulnerable and be prepared to overcome the challenges to it.
At the Law Offices of Graham Donath, defending persons facing serious criminal charges is all we do. We are passionate about protecting the rights of our clients and aggressive when it comes to getting them the most favorable results. Visit our website to request a confidential consultation or call us in Riverside at 951-667-5293 or Orange County at 714-758-5293 to schedule an appointment to discuss your defense.