San Diego Murder Defense Lawyer

Homicide charges, including manslaughter and murder, are some of the most serious criminal charges in our society. If you have been charged with homicide or murder in San Diego, you should contact an experienced private criminal defense attorney who will zealously defend your innocence. Mary Frances Prévost is an aggressive homicide and murder defense lawyer who represents defendants in state and federal courts in San Diego and the surrounding areas.

What is murder under California law?

This section provides general information about murder charges in California and is not intended to constitute legal advice. If you have questions about your case, contact a reputable San Diego homicide lawyer right away.


California Penal Code § 187 defines murder as the “unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.” In order to prove that someone committed murder in California, the prosecution must establish the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • The defendant committed an act that caused the death of another person or fetus,
  • The defendant acted with “malice aforethought,” and
  • The defendant killed without a lawful excuse or justification.

The term “malice aforethought” is a legal concept in California that is equivalent to “premeditation” in other jurisdictions. Malice aforethought is defined as:

  • The conscious intent to cause death or serious bodily harm to another person before committing the crime, or
  • A general evil or depraved state of mind in which the person is unconcerned for the lives of others.

Depending on the seriousness of the crime, you may be charged with either first degree murder or second degree murder. These charges carry different penalties, which are discussed in greater detail below.

Felony Murder

California is one of many jurisdictions in the United States that recognize the “felony murder” rule. This means that you can be charged with first degree murder if you or an accomplice killed someone during the commission of a dangerous felony as defined by California law, even if the killing was an accident.

California Penal Code § 189 codifies the felony murder rule, and creates liability for those who kill another human being or fetus during the commission of one of the following predicate offenses:

  • Arson,
  • Rape or other sexual crimes,
  • Carjacking,
  • Robbery,
  • Burglary,
  • Mayhem,
  • Kidnapping,
  • Train wrecking, or
  • Intentionally firing a gun from a motor vehicle at a person outside of the motor vehicle with the intention to cause death.

If you have been charged with murder on the basis of the felony murder rule, you must hire an expert San Diego murder lawyer in order to best protect your rights. Felony murder charges are complicated and require highly skilled legal representation.


Even if you are not convicted of murder, you may be facing other serious homicide charges. These include:

What are defenses to murder in California?

There are several defenses to homicide, murder, and manslaughter charges, including:

  • Self defense or defense of others,
  • Insanity or intoxication,
  • Mistaken identity,
  • Factual impossibility,
  • Accidental killing,
  • Fourth Amendment violations, and
  • Fifth Amendment violations.

What are the penalties for murder in California?

If you are convicted of first degree murder, you face 25 years to life in a California state prison. However, the sentence may be elevated to life without the possibility of parole under certain circumstances, such as if the killing involved a “hate crime.” A hate crime is defined under California law as a crime motivated by hatred that is based on “race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability.”

California recognizes capital murder, which means that you may face the death penalty if a court sees your crime as particularly serious and proves certain additional elements.

If you are convicted of second degree murder, you face 15 years to life in a California state prison. Under certain circumstances, such as if you killed a peace officer, this sentence may be increased to life without the possibility of parole.

In California, murder convictions may carry additional penalties. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Fines up to $10,000,
  • An additional sentence of 10, 20, or 25 years to life if the defendant used a firearm during the murder,
  • A strike under California’s “three strikes” law, and
  • The loss of the right to own and carry a firearm.

San Diego Murder Defense Attorney

Mary Frances Prévost offers her clients years of courtroom experience, and works diligently to defend them against serious criminal charges including murder and manslaughter. If you have been charged with a homicide offense in San Diego, call her to discuss your case at (619) 692-9001. She offers free and confidential consultations.