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What are the penalties for murder?

In California, the unlawful killing of another person is considered either manslaughter or murder. Under California state law, a murder can be either a first-degree or second-degree murder. To qualify as a first-degree murder, a prosecutor must prove that the murder was premeditated or that there was some type of malice aforethought. Murders that occur due to self-defense or that were not premeditated do not meet this threshold.

State law requires a defendant to be charged with first-degree murder if a weapon of mass destruction was used in the killing. Furthermore, such a charge is mandatory when the person who allegedly committed the crime was lying in wait for a victim or used torture during the killing. This charge is also mandatory if it occurred while another felony was being committed.

There are several penalties that an individual could face if convicted of first-degree murder. An individual could serve 25 years to life in prison, spend life in prison without the possibility of parole or face the death penalty. Generally, life sentences without parole or a sentence of death are considered when a peace officer or other government official is killed. However, the law allows a judge to impose a life sentence for any murder that is especially heinous or gruesome.

Those who are charged with a homicide are considered innocent until proven guilty. A criminal defense lawyer may help a client dispute the charge in court. This may be done by challenging evidence used against the client or having evidence withheld. The lawyer may also ask for charges to be dropped if mistakes are made by prosecutors.

Source: Findlaw , "California First Degree Murder Laws", November 20, 2014

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