Criminal Defense

What is Malice Aforethought in Criminal Law?

December 16, 2021 by Alexandra Carter in Criminal Defense  
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Was it Premeditated?

In many states, including California, the prosecutor must prove a defendant acted with ‘malice aforethought’ in order to be found guilty of murder. 

There are two types of malice aforethought:

  1. Express — A defendant specifically intended to kill the victim.
  2. Implied — A defendant demonstrated a conscious disregard for human life.

A defendant is said to have acted with implied malice if:

  • They intentionally committed a crime.
  • The natural and probable effects of the act endangered human life.
  • They knew the act was dangerous to human life at the time they committed it.
  • They acted deliberately with a conscious disregard for human life.

If someone causes another person’s death unlawfully, but without malice, they may be eligible for voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, but not murder.

Proving Malice Aforethought

The prosecutor must prove malice beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict someone of murder. This proof can consist of:

  • Showing a killer thought about or planned a murder before committing it.
  • Showing that the defendant took certain steps to facilitate the killing.

For example, Leonardo catches his wife cheating with the neighbor. Leonardo invites the neighbor over under the impression that he wants to talk to him about the affair and repairing their friendship. But, Leonardo has been planning to poison the neighbor’s wine while he’s over in order to seek revenge and kill his wife’s lover.

In this instance, the prosecutor can prove malice by showing that Leonardo:

  • Bought poison to put in the neighbor’s glass.
  • Researched how to carry out fatal poisonings on the internet.
  • Invited the neighbor over under false pretenses.

All three show express malice or an intent to kill.

Malice can also be implied in some prescription and illegal drug overdose cases. For example, in 2016, Dr. Hsui-Ying “Lisa” Tseng was convicted of murder for over-prescribing potent drugs to several patients in California.

In California, unlawful killings with implied malice aforethought are charged as second-degree murder. The crime carries a penalty of up to $10,000 and 15 years to life in a California state prison.

Does Malice Aforethought Pertain to Drunk Driving Deaths?

In 1981, the California Supreme Court ruled that drunk driving deaths may be charged as murder when a person does an act with natural consequences that endanger human life while knowing this act could endanger human life, and still acts with conscious disregard for life.

Therefore, drunk driving deaths may or may not imply malice, depending on the facts of each unique case. But, malice is applied when:

  1. The defendant was aware of the dangers of drunk driving.
  2. The defendant showed an intent to drive after drinking.
  3. The defendant became legally intoxicated, and
  4. The defendant became engaged in high-risk driving.

What Are the Penalties for Murder with Malice?

As we mentioned, in California, criminal homicide with implied malice aforethought is considered a second-degree murder charge. In addition to the fine and prison sentence, the defendant could face civil lawsuits, including:

  • Wrongful death lawsuit that compensates the survivors for their losses
  • ‘Survival cause of action’ that compensates the estate for the victim’s losses before death.

Negating Malice Aforethought

How can a judge, jury, or prosecutor know what thoughts were running through a defendant’s head or what caused them to commit a crime? It’s hard to do so. This is why working with an experienced attorney is your best bet. Your attorney will strategize in order to provide that you did not have malice aforethought at the time of the crime.

They can do this by:

  1. You acted in self-defense, or you were defending somebody else.
  2. Your accident or reckless behavior led to a death.
  3. You were legally insane at the time of the crime.

Seppi Esfandi Can Help

If you or a loved one is facing charges or accusations of a crime with malice aforethought, it’s critically important that you find a skilled defense attorney. Seppi Esfandi has worked for more than seven years as a Deputy Public Defender for various California criminal law agencies. Esfandi has a wide range of experience litigating varying criminal cases. Contact us today for a free case consultation and to learn more about our tactics and strategies to defend our clients and their rights. 

Need a Criminal Defense Attorney? CALL NOW: 310-274-6529

Seppi Esfandi is an Expert Criminal Defense Attorney who has over 20 years of practice defending a variety of criminal cases.

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