Defending Against First Degree Murder Charges in the State of California

If you have been charged with first degree murder in the state of California, your future, your freedom, your everything hangs in the balance. You need to mount the strongest possible defense, and this requires the dedication of a skilled California criminal defense attorney. In order to convict you, the state will have to prove every element of the charges against you beyond a reasonable doubt. The purpose of this article is to explain the elements of the charge of first degree murder in the state of California.

First Degree Murder is a Statutorily Created Crime

First degree murder is a criminal charge created by statute – a version of the more general charge of murder. The crime of murder dates back to the common law era in England and is defined as the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. First degree murder adds the elements of premeditation and deliberation to the longstanding definition of murder.  So then, first degree murder is a statutorily created crime in the state of California and is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought, premeditation, and deliberation.  Again, to convict, the state must prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

Malice Aforethought Encompasses Four Mental States

First degree murder is a specific intent crime. Specific intent goes to one’s mental state before and during the commission of a crime. With regard to first degree murder, there are four categories of “malice aforethought.”  

Intent to kill: To possess an intent to kill is to have the purpose of killing another human being – to have one’s act or plan result in the death of another. Intent to kill is the highest threshold of malice.

Intent to inflict serious bodily harm: This mind-state, while not set on causing a fatality, is concerned with setting about a cause of events to seriously harm another person.  

Reckless disregard for an unjustifiably high risk to human life: This category of malice is sometimes referred to as “depraved heart.” Shooting a gun into a crowd of people, while not reflecting an intent to kill or cause serious bodily injury to a specific, identifiable person, is indicative of a depraved heart.

Premeditation: For the element of premeditation to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, even a relatively brief moment is considered sufficient for reflection. To prove the element of deliberation, the state must prove that you acted in a cool and dispassionate manner. Because of this requirement, so-called “heat of passion” killings cannot be successfully prosecuted as first-degree murder, and are instead prosecuted as second degree murder.  

If you have been charged with murder in the state of California, you need a skilled and experienced California criminal defense attorney to challenge the state’s every effort to prove the legal elements of the charges against you.