Murder and Manslaughter Charges in San Diego

San Diego Murder Defense Attorney

Murder cases are a highly specialized type of case and require not only a talented defense lawyer, but a trial lawyer who also has substantial experience with murder, manslaughter and homicide cases, and vehicular manslaughter charges. There are several San Diego murder and manslaughter defense attorneys qualified to handle murder cases, and I recommend that you inspect a lawyer’s credentials thoroughly before you make the choice to hire. Police agencies put much more effort into homicide cases and collect evidence much more intensely. That means at a crime scene they will cordon off the area and have criminalists and evidence technicians scour the area in great detail.

Criminal Lawyer Explains Murder Investigations in San Diego

Because they photograph, collect, and extensively document fingerprints, shoe prints and tracks, fibers, hairs, DNA, blood, fluids, and other physical evidence, your defense attorney needs to be experienced in all of these areas. Someone who has not handled this type of evidence very much can’t possibly know all the important pitfalls and weaknesses that might be critical in your case.

The police also locate and interview witnesses to a much greater degree in homicide cases. From the officers who responded to the scene to the homicide team assigned to the case, significant efforts are made to find witnesses and get their recollections down on paper or on tape. Typically, several hundred pages of reports and interviews are produced within days of a homicide investigation.

Usually a homicide case involves a body which is also extensively photographed and the conditions under which it was found are documented. Almost immediately a medical doctor pathologist from the medical examiner’s office conducts an autopsy. The autopsy takes several hours and details the condition of every part of the decedent’s body. They document in detail all wounds including the depth of the wound, the angle of each wound’s track through the body and points of entry and exit. Bruises and other marks are also documented in the event they play a role in the case.

Don't Wait: Hire Your Murder Defense Attorney Now

If you have been charged with murder or manslaughter, it is important for your defense lawyer to immediately start the investigation and analysis of the incident. It is important to find a murder or manslaughter defense attorney who can quickly size up the situation, understand where the case is going and begin setting up the defense.

In the quest of trying to gather evidence to persuade a jury that someone other than the defendant killed the victim, a lot of work lies ahead for the defense team. They need to figure out why and how the victim was killed and who may have done it. The body and the physical circumstances of the killing provide the first clues as to what happened. In most cases, it will be apparent whether the killing was by a stranger or by someone who knew the victim. It will also be apparent whether the killing was possibly an execution, an accident, or an act in the heat of anger or passion.

Possible Defenses to Murder Charges

If, for instance, the killing is determined to be in the heat of passion or anger by someone who knew the victim, your lawyer should start interviewing the victims, friends, family, lovers, and co-workers. A good murder and manslaughter defense attorney should also obtain the phone records of the victim in an effort to contact all persons with whom the victim had recent communication and contact.

Under the best of circumstances, proving that the killing was committed by someone else is a difficult task. Usually the police have some evidence that the defendant is a good suspect and overcoming that suggestion is tough work. Rarely do people have a clear cut alibi to conclusively prove they were somewhere else.

If the defendant is clearly the one who was involved with the death of the alleged victim, it becomes the job of your lawyer to figure out why it happened and present evidence that mitigates the killing. Many times there are only two witnesses to the death (the defendant and the alleged victim) and one of those witnesses is dead. Many times, the body of the alleged victim speaks volumes through the marks on the body and other facts which help prove what happened. And where the scene where the body was found also helps in determining what happened. Blood on the wall, disturbed furniture, and broken or items out of place all help tell the story.

Reducing Murder Charges to Manslaughter

Once a murder case has been scrupulously examined, under certain circumstances, the charge can be reduced from murder to manslaughter with the help of an experienced manslaughter defense attorney. Murder carries life in prison (15 or 25 to life) while voluntary manslaughter has a maximum punishment of 12 years. Use of a firearm adds a substantial amount of time to both murder and manslaughter. Reduction to manslaughter can occur if the defendant was acting in the “heat of passion” provoked by circumstances that the law deems mitigating. A sudden quarrel provoked by the victim, or suddenly going into the heat of passion after justifiable circumstances (like finding your wife in the arms of another), will reduce murder to manslaughter.

As a San Diego defense lawyer, I have helped reduce murder charges to manslaughter. I recently tried a case where the defendant was stopped in the victim’s SUV heading to Mexico with three cans of the gasoline in the car. The victim’s nude, dead body was in the back seat with a plastic bag tied filled with blood tied around his head. The man had been strangled by an aggressive attack with a crow bar on a hotel room bed where he had been living during his home remodel.

The victim was a 40 year old gay male who was in the modeling and acting business. The defendant was a 19 year old heterosexual male from the east coast who was working for the victim as a web site developer and a personal assistant. The defendant killed the victim in a fit of rage after he claimed that the victim had attempted to sexually assault him. The jury believed his version and found him not guilty of murder and guilty of voluntary manslaughter.

Another route to reduction from murder to manslaughter is a mental state defense that eliminates malice. A killing by a person whose mental condition has diminished his cognitive functioning can reduce murder to manslaughter. Many persons have mental diseases or defects that affect their thinking significantly when they haven’t taken their medication or are under extreme personal stress. This defense requires considerable analysis and expert investigation, usually through a forensic psychologist or psychiatrist. You can expect serious opposing experts in these situations and your attorney better be experienced enough to effectively cross-examine a trained psychiatrist or psychologist.

Yet one more route to voluntary manslaughter is imperfect self defense. This is where a person is defending themselves against a perceived threat to their well being, but uses an excessive response.

Involuntary Manslaughter

If the killing was accidental, even in the course of a reckless event, the case will be reduced to manslaughter if the facts don’t show a “callous” disregard for life. Many times a killing appears clearly unintentional, but other times it is a difficult and risky fact to prove. When there is a dead body but no other witnesses, an accident must be proved through circumstantial evidence and the use of experts.

Through my experience as a San Diego manslaughter defense attorney, I have seen numerous involuntary manslaughter cases. I once had a case where the defendant stabbed her boyfriend in the heart with a steak knife severing a major blood vessel in the chest cavity. She said it was an accident although on the surface that appeared to be ridiculous.

The way the weapon entered into the body seemed odd and inconsistent with the way a person would typically stab another intentionally. Nationally renowned forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht was hired and his testimony was powerful: that the incident was an accident. The jury found her not guilty of murder and guilty of involuntary manslaughter. She ended up being released shortly after the trial, getting sentenced to credit for the time she had already served.

Jury Trial of a Homicide Case

The jury trial of a homicide case will take between two weeks and a month depending on the complexity of the issues. Immediate pre-trial preparation will take about a month of full time or near full time labor. All aspects of the trial are important from the beginning to the end. The phases of the trial are the motions to exclude or permit important evidence, profiling and selection of the jury, the decision to give an opening statement, cross-examination of the state’s witnesses, presentation of the defense (including experts and lay witnesses), the decision to have the defendant take the stand, jury instructions, and closing arguments. All of these phases require considerable thought, preparation, and aggressive execution.

After nearly three decades of experience as aSan Diego criminal defense lawyer, I’ve realized that when an attorney launches into a multi-week jury trial, that attorney’s entire life is put on hold while the mission is pursued. There are no weekends away and rarely a night free for entertainment. The mission is all consuming and requires an unparalleled focus of attention. Most serious murder and manslaughter lawyers recognize the stakes and handle the case accordingly.