California Penal Code 187 PC

PC 187 – Murder

PC 187 - Murder

Murder – Table of Contents

What is Murder in California?

Murder, CA Penal Code 187, is defined as “the unlawful killing of a human being or a fetus with malice aforethought”.

Malice aforethought can be defined simply as, you meant to kill the victim. Malice pertains to when:

  • The killing was an intentional act
  • The action performed has natural consequences that are known to be dangerous to human life
  • The action was performed deliberately and with conscious disregard for human life

There are three levels of severity for murder in California under Penal Code 187: First-degree murder, Second-degree murder and Manslaughter.


You can be convicted of first-degree murder for performing any of the three actions by:

  1. Committing a murder while
    1. Using a destructive device or explosive, a weapon of mass destruction, poison, or metal piercing ammunition
    2. Torturing someone or waiting for a person
  2. Murdering someone willfully, deliberately, and with premeditation
  3. Felony-murder rule comes into effect if you killed someone while performing either of the following:
    1. Arson, CA Penal Code 451
    2. Robbery, CA Penal Code 211
    3. Burglary, CA Penal Code 459
    4. Carjacking, CA Penal Code 215
    5. Train Wrecking, CA Penal Code 219
    6. Kidnapping, CA Penal Code 207
    7. Mayhem, CA Penal Code 203
    8. Torture, CA Penal Code 206
    9. Rape, CA Penal Code 261
    10. Unlawful Acts of Sodomy, CA Penal Code 288a
    11. Forcible Acts of Penetration, CA Penal Code 289
    12. Lewd Acts with a Minor, CA Penal Code 288

If you are found guilty of any of the offenses listed above and a person died as a result of you committing the crime then you will be tried under the felony-murder rule.


Second-degree applies to any murder that was willful but not premeditated. Second-degree cases also are covered under the felony-murder rule and are assessed on a case-to-case basis.

Third-degree (Manslaughter)

Third-degree in California is known as manslaughter.

Capital Murder

Capital murder is the most heavily punished type of murder in California and is known as first-degree murder with special circumstances. If found guilty of capital murder you will either be sentenced to death row or a state prison sentence for life without the possibility of parole. You can be charged with capital murder if you performed any of the following including, but not limited to:

  1. Murdering another for financial gain
  2. Murdering a police officer, firefighter, prosecutor, judge, juror, or elected official
  3. Murdering another because of their race, color, religion, etc.
  4. Murdering another by drive-by
  5. Murdering more than one victim

NOTE: The death penalty is not allowed to be carried out as of March 2019, because executions were halted by an official moratorium ordered by Governor Gavin Newsom.


The sentencing for each type of murder can vary substantially depending on a defendant’s criminal record and the details of the case. Here we will list the typical sentences for each crime.

If convicted of first-degree murder under PC 187 you will be sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison. This means that you must serve at least 25 years before being eligible for early release on parole. However, if it can be proven by the prosecutor that you committed the murder because of the victim’s race, religion, gender, etc. then you will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, meaning you will spend the rest of your life in state prison.

If convicted of second-degree murder under PC 187 you will be sentenced to 15 years-to-life in state prison. Meaning you will spend a mandatory 15 years in prison before being eligible for early release on parole. Additionally, if the murder victim was a police officer or was killed during a drive-by shooting then the charges increase dramatically.

If during the murder, CA Penal Code 187 you used a firearm then you will be serve an additional 10, 20, or 25-years to life state prison sentence. You will also receive a strike on your record, pay up to $10,000 in fines, pay victim restitution and will lose your right to own or possess a firearm.


In order for a prosecutor to convict you of murder, CA Penal Code 187, regardless of the degree, he/she must prove the three elements of the crime:

  1. That you committed an act that resulted in the death of a fetus, or another
  2. That the act was committed with malice aforethought
  3. That the killing was without lawful excuse or jurisdiction

If the prosecutor cannot definitively prove that you murdered someone in accordance with the three elements of the crime then you will not be found guilty.

Defending Murder, CA Penal Code 187

PC 187 - Murder

There are several strategies that an effective criminal defense attorney can implement to have a case dropped or the charges reduced.

Self Defense

The first defense that an attorney will explore is making sure the murder was not committed as an act of self-defense. The state protects people from being punished if they kill another person while protecting themselves, but only if violence is the sole way to avoid:

  • Being killed
  • Suffering great bodily injury
  • Being raped, maimed, robbed or some other atrocious crime

If you commit a murder because you truly feared that someone was going to take your life then you are protected by the state’s self-defense laws. This defense only works though if there were not any options to escape and your only way to stay alive or avoid great bodily injury is to kill your attacker.


The second approach your criminal defense attorney will take is to prove that the murder was an accident. If, at the time of the murder, you:

  1. You did not intend to harm anyone
  2. You were not acting negligently
  3. You were not doing anything illegal that would likely result in a person’s death

If the murder was performed while you were acting in any of the three ways mentioned above then proving the incident was an accident is a valid California legal defense.


The next approach is to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. If your attorney can prove that you:

  1. Didn’t understand what you were doing while committing the murder, or
  2. You couldn’t distinguish between right and wrong

Then a viable option is to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. The insanity plea is governed by the M’Naghten test and states, “A person is not responsible for criminal conduct if at the time of such conduct as a result of mental disease or defect he lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality [wrongfulness] of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law” [2]. This defense strategy can be hard to prove is a defendant does not have a record of mental disability.

Your criminal defense attorney will also make sure the prosecutor’s evidence against you was properly seized in accordance to California’s search and seizure laws. If the police went beyond their power to search your person and property and illegally obtained evidence then your criminal defense attorney will try to have that evidence excluded from the trial. By having the prosecutor’s evidence excluded from trial, your criminal defense attorney will severely weaken their case and better your chances to have your charges reduced or dismissed.

Mistaken Identity

An effective criminal defense attorney can also prove your innocence by proving that you’ve been wrongfully identified. In murder cases weapons are often used and people subsequently become fixated on the weapon and not the person holding the weapon, leading to a number of mistaken identity cases. The goal of your criminal defense attorney is to prove that there is reasonable doubt in the identity of the murderer. If your criminal defense attorney can show to the court that the prosecutor’s witnesses have doubt about who committed the crime then the outcome will likely be favorable for the defendant.

Real World Example: Beating a Murder Case at Preliminary, Reduced to PC 192(b)

My client went by the appropriate nickname of “Crazy Horse”, and he was indeed bat-sh*t crazy (It’s the way he wanted it). Starting in his teenage years, he would get into very intense fights and brawls, not without serious injury. He also loved to smoke his marijuana and smoked the strong stuff more often than you or I might snack. But Crazy Horse was also someone who was hard not to like- he had charm and charisma and a ear-to-ear grin that was reminiscent of The Joker. However, by the time of his young adulthood, Crazy Horse had amassed an impressive criminal history of gratuitous violence.

Crazy Horse was charged with PC 187 Murder when he entered his neighbor’s residence and viciously assaulted him with his fists. The neighbor was watching a movie loud enough for Crazy Horse to hear, and had caused Crazy Horse a headache. So Crazy Horse barged in and after a barrage of punches to the head and face, the neighbor died. We hired a forensic pathologist and proved that the Neighbor was a meth head and had a potentially lethal dosage of methamphetamine in his system at the time of the assault. The expert also testified at the preliminary hearing that the Neighbor suffered from heart disease related to his long-time meth usage. The District Attorney’s experts saw things the opposite had found that the assault on Neighbor was the proximate cause of his death.

Murder is defined under PC 187(a) as the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. What is malice aforethought? Acting with malice aforethought means acting with wanton disregard for human life; in other words, acting in a way that involves a high degree of probability that such action will result in death. People v. Summers (1983) 147 Cal.App.3d 180, 184. Malice can be both explicitly expressed or implied. Express malice is when there is an obvious intention to kill someone: for example, I strangle a client to death with a chord because he didn’t pay his bill. Implied malice involves an action taken with an abandoned and malignant heart, or more precisely, with conscious disregard for the dangers to human life.

In this case, I was successful in arguing that Crazy Horse did act with a conscious disregard for Neighbor’s life because Crazy Horse did not know of his weakened condition due to meth usage. Had Crazy Horse known of his weakened condition and attacked him, then he consciously disregarded the dangers to Neighbors’ life.

The Prosecutor was unsuccessful in arguing for the Felony Murder rule, which means when someone dies during the commission of a felony, the person could be charged with murder even if there was no intention to kill. However, the Prosecutor ran into a roadblock with the case of People v. Ireland, 70 Cal 2nd, 522 which stands for the proposition that you cannot use burglary with the intent to assault as a basis of felony murder.

The upshot is that Crazy Horse got lucky. His PC 187 charge was reduced to PC 192(b), manslaughter. Crazy Horse got out of jail the next day, and ran wild like a stallion with in his crazy way!

We Want to Help

If you or a loved one is being charged with Murder, we invite you to contact with our criminal defense attorney immediately for a free case review. Schedule an appointment to meet with us in person, or feel free to submit an evaluation online and we will get in contact with you ASAP. We can provide a free consultation in our office, or by phone.

PC 187 Lawyer Los Angeles - 310-274-6529
 (Click to Enlarge)

Our experienced and assiduous Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyers will be sure to fight until the end to reduce or drop your charges completely.

Call Us for a FREE Case Review: 310-274-6529

Contact Us:         
Esfandi Law Group QR Code
Esfandi Law Group
Lara S.
June 4, 2018
Seppi had my case reduced to just an infraction, and thanks to him I was able to keep my job. Jorge was extremely helpful too, the reason I went with this law firm. Overall pleased.

How to Win Your Case

We cannot stress enough that you read, understand and follow these 10 basic rules if you are criminally charged or under investigation:

  1. Don’t ever talk to the police
  2. Do not discuss your case with anyone
  3. Everything you tell your lawyer is confidential
  4. Tell police you need to contact your attorney
  5. Never consent to any search by the police
  6. If the police knock on your door, don't answer!
  7. Realize the consequences of a criminal conviction
  8. Your lawyer (not you) will contact any witnesses
  9. Information on your cell phone is evidence
  10. Early Intervention is the key

Get a Free Consultation

    Free Consultation Form