How to Win a PC 187 Case

Aaron Spolin

Award-winning PC 187 defense attorney Aaron Spolin has utilized successful strategies to win the freedom of many clients who were wrongfully accused.

Winning a Penal Code (PC) 187 case in California requires your attorney to understand the law and know how to use evidence and what happened to your benefit. One of California’s top murder lawyers, Aaron Spolin, explains how to win a murder case: “We use three strategies: (1) file legal motions to get the case dismissed or evidence excluded, (2) use the prosecutor’s evidence against them, and (3) present strong defenses to the jury to prove our client is no guilty.” This strategy has been used many times with Mr. Spolin’s former clients. (Every case is unique, and prior success is not a “guarantee” of the same outcome on a future case.)

Mr. Spolin explains how his strategies work:

  1. Filing Legal “Motions” to Dismiss the Case or Exclude Evidence: A legal “motion” is a request to the court. Some pre-trial motions your murder lawyer might file include a Motion to Dismiss and a Motion to Exclude (or Suppress) Evidence. These motions are based on information gathered during the discovery process and supported by the law. If your motion to dismiss is granted, you should be released immediately. A motion to exclude evidence is used to suppress, or get rid of, key evidence that the prosecutor may be using against you. Trial attorney Aaron Spolin explains how he uses motions in more detail in the section below, Effective Pre-Trial Motions.
  2. Evaluating the Evidence: It’s important for your attorney to know exactly what happened in your case. After listening to your side of the story, your lawyer will request documents from the Government through the discovery process. Then, they may conduct an independent investigation to obtain even more information. The facts gathered during this process will be used to support motions and defenses. Your attorney will also consider how the prosecution obtained evidence against you. If they got physical evidence or information about your alleged crime illegally or by violating your rights, then your attorney will work to exclude that evidence. Experienced PC 187 lawyer Don Nguyen, of Spolin Law P.C., explains how to evaluate evidence in the section below, Evaluating the Evidence.
  3. Presenting Strong Defenses to the Jury: In a murder trial, a jury will decide if you are guilty or not. Your attorney does not have to argue that you are innocent, but simply that you are “not guilty.” The prosecution has the very high burden of proof to show that you committed a crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” By convincing the jury that there is reasonable doubt that you committed a murder, they cannot find that you are guilty. Spolin Law P.C. attorney Jeremy Cutcher explains this strategy and specific defenses used in the section below, Presenting Strong Defenses to the Jury.

To learn more about how these strategies might apply to your case, call Mr. Spolin, Mr. Nguyen, or Mr. Cutcher at their law firm, Spolin Law, P.C.: (310) 424-5816.

  1. How to Win a PC 187 Case
  2. Types of Murder Under PC 187
  3. Effective Pre-Trial Motions
  4. Defenses to Murder Charges
  5. Learn about the Leading PC 187 Attorneys

Types of PC 187 Cases

An Overview of the Law

Attorney reviewing the law

The PC 187 attorneys at Spolin Law P.C. have studied California’s murder statute and know how to use it.

A good murder lawyer will know Penal Code 187, California’s murder statute, and understand how it may or may not apply to your case.

California defines murder as “the unlawful killing of a human being or fetus with malice aforethought.” That means that the person being accused must have killed “with wanton disregard for human life” in an act “that involves a high degree of probability that it will result in death.”

Murder is just one type of unlawful killing, which also includes manslaughter. Murder, manslaughter, and justifiable killings are considered homicide. Other forms of homicide or closely-related crimes include attempted murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter, DUI or Watson murder, and aiding a suicide.

Murder requires malice. Malice is a mental state that does not presuppose or require any ill will or hatred, but does include intentional acts that have a high degree of probability to result in death. Malice may be express or implied. Express malice means the accused person intended to kill the victim. Implied malice occurs when there was an intentional act with natural consequences that are dangerous to human life, and the accused person had knowledge of the danger to the human life. The killer must act with conscious disregard for human life.

There are different types of murder classifications in California.

First-Degree Murder

First-degree murder is one that is accomplished by means of a destructive device, weapon of mass destruction, armor-piercing ammunition, poison, lying in wait, or torture. It may also be done in a way that is willful, deliberate, and premeditated. First-degree murder may also invoke the California felony-murder rule because the murder occurs during the commission of other certain serious felony crimes.

Some examples of first-degree murder include detonating a pipe bomb that ultimately kills someone, going to someone’s house with the intent to kill them, and waiting in a car for someone to appear and then running them over, resulting in their death.

First-degree murder typically results in a sentence of 25 years to life in state prison.

Capital Murder

As a first-degree murder charge, capital murder applies in more than 20 specific situations, some of which include killing for financial gain, killing more than one victim, and killing a police officer. Drive-by shootings and gang killings are also considered capital murder.

The punishment for capital murder in California is the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOP).

Second-Degree Murder

Second-degree murder is also willful, but there is no element of premeditation. This classification includes any murder that does not count as first-degree murder.

Some examples of second-degree murder include shooting a gun into a room of people and killing someone or driving while intoxicated (often with previous DUIs) and causing an accident that kills someone.

Second-degree murder can result in 15 years to life in state prison.

The Felony Murder Rule

This rule applies to both first-degree and second-degree murder charges.

If a murder is committed while also committing another dangerous felony, then the Felony Murder Rule applies. Felony murder only applies to the actual killer, someone who assisted the actual killer and had intent to kill, a person who acted with reckless indifference to human life as the major participant in the underlying felony, or the victim was an on-duty police officer and the accused person should have known this.

Negligent and accidental deaths that occur during felonies are not felony murder unless the victim was an on-duty police officer.

An example of a situation where the Felony Murder Rule would apply includes where a robbery is taking place and the robber shoots the cashier when the cashier reaches for the phone. Even if the robber did not intend for the cashier to die, they may be charged with murder.

Disproving the Elements of Murder

The prosecutor will claim that they can use the evidence to prove all of the elements of murder against you. However, your murder lawyer can utilize motions to have evidence excluded so that the prosecution cannot meet those elements. If they are no longer able to prove all of the elements of murder, your case is likely to be dismissed.

There are three elements of murder in California, and the prosecutor must prove all of them beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict a defendant.

  1. The accused person caused the death of another person (or fetus),
  2. The accused person acted with malice aforethought, and
  3. The accused person did not have a lawful excuse or justification for their actions.

By utilizing the strategies discussed earlier, Mr. Spolin, Mr. Nguyen, and Mr. Cutcher will dissect these elements and show the jury that they cannot be proved with the prosecutor’s evidence.

  1. How to Win a PC 187 Case
  2. Types of Murder Under PC 187
  3. Effective Pre-Trial Motions
  4. Defenses to Murder Charges
  5. Learn about the Leading PC 187 Attorneys

Effective Pre-Trial Motions in PC 187 Cases

One of the first steps your California murder lawyer will take is filing pre-trial motions to get your case dismissed or evidence excluded from trial.

Motion to Dismiss

A motion to dismiss is a request to the judge for the entire case to be dismissed. This motion argues that the government:

  • Failed to follow required legal procedures;
  • Made a mistake with the charging documents;
  • Violated the defendant’s rights; or
  • Violated the statute of limitations (did not meet legal deadlines).

Specifically, your attorney may argue that there are grounds for dismissal because of a lack of evidence or the charging document was defective, for example. If the prosecutor failed to present enough evidence to support all of the elements of murder, your charges may be dismissed. Similarly, if the government fails to prove all of the necessary information on required legal documents, the judge may throw out your case. There are other grounds for dismissal that may also be evoked.

Motion to Exclude Evidence

Your attorney may also try to get specific evidence in your case excluded or suppressed. This motion asks the court to get rid of one or more pieces of evidence based on legal reasons. If evidence is successfully excluded, the prosecutor may not be able to prove their case, and your charges may be thrown out.

Evidence may be excluded if it was illegally obtained, for example through an illegal search and seizure. It may also be thrown out if there was a problem with the chain of custody, or the process by which it was handled after it was collected. If statements were illegally obtained, they may also be excluded from the trial.

Evaluating the Evidence

Evidence is important in a murder trial. It is all the prosecution has to prove the elements of murder that will ultimately convince the jury to find you guilty. Thus, by carefully evaluating all of the evidence and using it against the prosecutor’s arguments, your California murder attorney can use it to your benefit.

What Is Evidence?

Evidence includes information sources that inform the court and jury while disproving or proving points at issue in a case. It may include anything from statements from witnesses to physical objects. In a murder trial, some of the most common pieces of evidence include the body of the victim and the murder weapon, if it is found.

There are many different types of evidence, all of which allow the trier of fact (the jury) to draw inferences and reach conclusions to determine if a criminal charge like murder has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

How Is Evidence Obtained?

Evidence may be gathered at the scene of an alleged crime or from other places that have related information. It may also be obtained from the defendant, victims, or third parties. The attorneys in a case must use every resource possible to get as much evidence as possible to support their arguments.

Evidence is also obtained from the other side of a case (either party) through the discovery process. During discovery, both parties exchange information that they have gathered. This allows your murder lawyer to carefully evaluate what the prosecution has against you and how it may be used to disprove their claims.

When Can Evidence Be Thrown Out?

Evidence may be excluded from a trial or not presented to the jury if it was illegally or wrongfully obtained. For example, if the police illegally searched your vehicle during a routine traffic stop and you did not give them permission to, then the seizure of any evidence may be wrongful. That evidence may be excluded from trial in certain circumstances.

The police must have a warrant in order to search your home or other property. If they do not, anything they find might be suppressed by the judge.

Statements made by the defendant can also be excluded, even if they admitted to a crime. If the police failed to read you “Miranda Rights” or failed to allow you to get an attorney before questioning, then anything you say may be held out of court.

Using Evidence to Prove You are Not Guilty

Your murder lawyer may use evidence positively or negatively. For example, they may use information to positively prove you were not at the scene of a murder. Or they may negate the elements of murder being claimed by the prosecution. A skilled attorney can make evidence work for you in court.

  1. How to Win a PC 187 Case
  2. Types of Murder Under PC 187
  3. Effective Pre-Trial Motions
  4. Defenses to Murder Charges
  5. Learn about the Leading PC 187 Attorneys

Presenting Strong Defenses to the Jury

Attorney Aaron Spolin discussing with other members of the legal team

Strong arguments to juries are one of the many examples of strategies to fight PC 187 charges.

Although we have discussed the many ways that your California attorneys can get your case thrown out or evidence excluded, there are also legal defenses that can lead to a dismissal or acquittal of your charges. The specific legal defenses that can be used in your case will depend on the facts of your situation.

Some legal defenses Mr. Spolin, Mr. Nguyen, and Mr. Cutcher may use to support your murder case include the following:

Self-Defense or Defense of Others

Self-defense laws in California validate the need for killing someone else in certain situations. A justifiable homicide includes when someone reasonably believes they or others are in imminent danger of being killed, suffering great bodily injury, or being raped, maimed, robbed, or another forcible or atrocious crime.

For example, if a woman has been badly beaten by her husband repeatedly and he raises a baseball bat to begin hitting her again, she may be justified in shooting him. There is evidence to show that she reasonably believed she was about to suffer death or great bodily injury. She acted to prevent that from happening. She acted in self-defense.

California also allows for an “imperfect self-defense,” also called the Flannel doctrine. This applies when a person acts with the honest but unreasonable belief that they face imminent danger. Although this defense cannot get a murder charge completely dismissed, it can reduce the charge to manslaughter, which has greatly reduced penalties.

Accidental Killing

If the defendant had no intent to harm, did not act negligently, and was otherwise engaged in lawful activity at the time of the killing, they may be able to use the defense that the killing was an accident.

For example, if a person is hunting in the woods and accidentally fires their gun, killing another person, it may be considered an accidental homicide.

Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity – The M’Naughten Rule

California uses the M’Naughten test to prove that a defendant is “not guilty by reason of insanity.” This requires proof that the defendant killed because they did not understand the nature of the act and could not distinguish between right and wrong. This is a complete excuse to murder and charges will be completely dismissed if used successfully.

For example, if a new mother is suffering from Post-Partum Depression (PPD) and drowns her infant, psychiatric testimony will likely show she had postpartum psychosis and she was insane. The prosecution cannot prove malice aforethought where there is such severe mental illness.

Confessions that are False and Coerced

Before interrogating you, or asking you questions, the police must follow proper Miranda and constitutional protections. They cannot coerce a confession from a suspect. Illegal methods of doing so include making threats against the suspect or their family, threatening the death penalty, or offering lenient treatment in exchange for a confession. If the police coerce a confession from someone, that confession may be excluded from evidence.

Research indicates that coercion is common and it has led to widespread prosecutions. Many convictions of innocent people occur due to illegal police coercion.

Illegal Search and Seizure

There are limits under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on searches and seizures. If the police cross the line, a California criminal defense lawyer can request that any illegally obtained evidence should be excluded. Without this evidence, the prosecutor may not have enough facts to meet the elements of murder, and they may be forced to dismiss the charges.

Mistaken Identity

In murder cases, mistaken identity is a significant cause of wrongful convictions. In fact, studies show that it leads to more convictions of innocent people than all of the other causes combined. That is because much of the evidence used in murder trials is eyewitness testimony, and witnesses are not perfect. They often forget things and make guesses about factual information.

Factors that impact a witnesses ability to properly identify a suspect include:

  • The stress during the encounter with the criminal
  • Focus on the weapon during the crime
  • Intoxication during the event
  • Racial differences between the witness and suspect
  • Passage of time since the crime occurred
  • Improper suggestions by the police
  • Prior interaction with the suspect

Prosecutors often base their cases on the testimony of questionable identification. However, there are strategies that can be used to fight back.

Your murder lawyer may demand a live lineup to see if the witness can actually identify the defendant. They may also challenge procedures used in previous photospreads and lineups that were used to identify the defendant. An expert may be used to explain to the jury how memory processes work and how common mistaken identity is. When a case is based largely on eyewitness testimony, it is key to prove that there is reasonable doubt regarding the identity of the perpetrator.

  1. How to Win a PC 187 Case
  2. Types of Murder Under PC 187
  3. Effective Pre-Trial Motions
  4. Defenses to Murder Charges
  5. Learn about the Leading PC 187 Attorneys

Learn About Some of the Top PC 187 Attorneys

Spolin Law attorneys discuss a PC 187 case

Spolin Law attorneys discuss a PC 187 case. The firm can be contacted at (310) 424-5816.

Murder charges under Penal Code 187 are some of the most serious that can be brought against a person. They often result in decades in prison — or even life.

Spolin Law P.C.’s major-crimes attorneys have a record of successful outcomes. We win cases because:

  • We know the law. Our track record of winning cases is based on knowing PC 187 inside and out; we know the elements, defenses, available motions, and other elements of the law.
  • We know the legal process. Every Court has rules that must be followed, and deadlines are very important in criminal cases. We will make sure your case is presented in the strongest manner while pointing out the flaws in the prosecution’s methods.
  • We know how to win. Spolin Law P.C. has a record of success. We carefully evaluate the facts of every case and develop strategies geared to win. If it is possible to get a dismissal of your charges, we will achieve it.

If you have questions about your case, contact Mr. Spolin, Mr. Nguyen, or Mr. Cutcher at the law firm Spolin Law, P.C.: (310) 424-5816.