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What is Murder?

Under California law, murder is defined as the unlawful killing of a human being or fetus with malice aforethought.

Malice aforethought generally means that the person intended to kill.

First-Degree Murder

First Degree Murder requires premeditation and deliberation in addition to malice. Malice can be expressed or implied. When it is expressed, it means killing the victim was intentional. When it is implied, it means the killing resulted from an intentional act, the act, or consequences thereof, were dangerous to human life, and the act was intentionally performed with the knowledge of the danger it entailed and with conscious disregard for human life.

Malice aforethought doesn’t mean someone has to act with hatred towards someone else. It means that someone with an unprovoked disregard for human life acted in a way that would most likely result in the death of someone else.

In order to be convicted of 1st-degree murder one of the following has to be true:

  • The killing was intentional, done consciously, or planned. Example – A man waits inside his ex-girlfriend’s apartment for her to come home. He kills her when she gets home.
  • The killing was committed during certain specified felonies, such as robbery or rape. Example – A person set a house on fire thinking there was no one inside, but there was someone inside and they were killed.


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Special Circumstance Murder

Special Circumstance Murder is 1st-degree murder for which the possible penalties are as follows:

  • The death penalty, or
  • Life in a state prison without the possibility of parole.

Some of the Special Circumstances that apply to First-degree murder include:

  • The murder was intentional and committed for financial gain.
  • There were multiple murder victims.
  • A police officer, firefighter, prosecutor, judge, juror, or elected official was murdered.
  • A witness was murdered to prevent them from testifying.
  • The victim was murdered in the process (before, during, or after) committing any of the felonies under the felony-murder rule.
  • A person was murdered because of their race, religion, nationality, or country of origin.
  • A person was murdered in a drive-by shooting.
  • Murdering someone for the benefit of a street gang.


For the full list of capital murder charge circumstance, please see California Penal Code 190.2.


Felony Murder Rule

The felony murder rule applies if someone dies while committing certain defined felonies.  The murder does not have to be intentional, but it does need to be logically related to the felony committed. For example, if someone sets fire to a building and someone dies in the fire then the felony murder rule applies. This unintentional death would make the arsonist liable for first degree murder charges.

1st-Degree Felony Murder

The felony murder rule only applies to these felonies:

  • Arson
  • Robbery
  • Burglary
  • Carjacking
  • Train wrecking
  • Kidnapping
  • Mayhem
  • Torture
  • Certain sex crimes
    • Rape
    • Unlawful acts of sodomy
    • Unlawful acts of oral copulation
    • Forcible acts of penetration
    • Lewd acts with a minor

Legal Defenses for Murder/Homicide

California’s self-defense laws can protect you if you acted in self-defense or defense of others. You have to reasonably believe that you or someone else is in immediate danger of:

  • Being killed
  • Suffering great bodily injury
  • Being raped, maimed, robbed, or having some other forcible act committed upon you or another person.

If any of these situations apply, then you have the right to use whatever measures necessary to stop these from happening.

A killing can be an accident if:

  • There was no criminal intent to do any harm
  • The defendant was not acting negligently
  • The defendant was following the law at the time of the killing

It’s possible to plead “not guilty by reason of insanity” when charged with murder. If the defendant only killed because he or she didn’t understand what he or she was doing and he or she couldn’t distinguish between right and wrong, then he or she is  not guilty by reason of insanity. In this situation, the defendant would be committed to a psychiatric hospital.

If you were questioned by the police and your statement was not voluntary, that statement might be suppressed (ruled inadmissible) in the trial against you.

If the only significant evidence against you is your statement, the case against you may have to be dismissed.

A lot of time, detectives will have a person in mind that they think committed the murder and try to get the facts to work with their theory, instead of looking for the facts and then formulating a theory. This often results in a coerced confession. There have been many instances where a suspect was interrogated for hours and finally says they did it so they can leave.

California has search and seizure laws that require the police force to have probable cause or a valid search warrant for specific areas in order to search someone’s person or property. If they go beyond the boundaries of their warrant or don’t have probable cause, then it becomes an illegal search and seizure.

Have you been legally accused of committing first-degree murder? If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, it is essential to obtain legal council for help. It’s important to take your charges seriously. Don’t just hope for the best. Hire an attorney who understands your situation and the consequences you face.

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Phone: 559-691-6222

Your Defense Attorney for Murder Charges

I’m Mark A. Broughton and I’m here to fight for you. I have been a defense Attorney for 40+ years and have represented thousands of people accused of crimes. I have extensive experience representing citizens charged with Felonies, Federal Crimes, White Collar Crimes, Violent Crimes, Gang Crimes and Sex Crimes to name a few.

10.0Mark A. Broughton
Mark A. BroughtonReviewsout of 23 reviews

About Mark Broughton:

Compassionate, highly experienced, exceptional reputation, ethical and honest:

Mark Broughton has been practicing law for over 40 years. He estimates that he has conducted over 200 jury trials – everything from DUIs, drug cases, sex cases, domestic violence, assaults, “three-strikes,” dozens of cases involving criminal street gangs, gun/deadly weapons, drive-by shootings, robberies, attempted murders, and murders, including special circumstance murder cases.

He has received many outright Not Guilty verdicts for his clients in all of these types of cases, including several murder cases – at one time between 2005-2007, the jury found his clients Not Guilty in four separate cases in a row.

Mark Broughton is qualified as a death penalty lawyer and is on the special circumstances/death penalty panel of attorneys in Fresno, California, where he is regularly appointed to special circumstances/death penalty murder cases by the Fresno County Superior Court.

Other Qualifications:
  • Certified Specialist Criminal Law, State Bar of California
  • Board of Trustees, State Bar of California
  • Chairman, Fresno County Bar Association, Criminal Law Section

Mark Broughton enjoys close relationships with his clients.  He sees every individual’s situation with compassion and empathy and believes that every person has the right to a fair trial and is innocent until proven guilty.

Above all, he enjoys helping reunite his clients and their families during and after dealing with perhaps the most difficult time in their lives, going through the challenging criminal process with them.

Practice Areas

  • Federal Crime 40%
  • White Collar Crime 20%
  • Violent Crime 20%
  • Criminal Defense 10%
  • Sex Crimes 10%

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