WARNING! – JAILHOUSE SNITCHES ARE BEING PLACED IN CELLS WITH 187 SUSPECTS!
The first thing you need to know if you’re being charged with murder is that the LA County DA’s Office, the LAPD, and the LA Co. Sheriff’s are placing informants in cells with murder suspects.
In September 2020, the Los Angeles Defense Attorney Law Firm was retained by three separate defendants in three separate first-degree murder cases. None of these clients know each other or have ever met each other. Yet, incredibly, two of them described the same man in detail, leaving no doubt that he was the same man (a fellow inmate), entering their cell and asking them the same, highly suspicious questions.
This man’s line of questioning left no doubt that he was attempting to obtain information to be used against the clients at trial. Fortunately, they were wise enough to say nothing. So be warned.
That’s why you should always follow the advice of the Jimmy Conway character (played by Robert DeNiro) in 1990’s Goodfellas: “Never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut.”
This is particularly true because homicide detectives, while interrogating you, are allowed by California law to lie to you about anything they want, and can even show you fake evidence. In fact, they’re allowed to do virtually anything they want short of physically assaulting you in order to gain a confession or other incriminating evidence from you.
So when they – or any arresting officer, for that matter – tries to question you, simply tell them you want to speak to your attorney and don’t say another word to them or anyone else about your case – including on a jailhouse phone.
As discussed below, first-degree murder charges can take many different forms of specific crimes. All of them, however, obviously comes with severe penalties upon conviction. In general, a first-degree murder conviction results in a mandatory-minimum sentence of twenty-five years.
Not surprisingly, LA County law enforcement and prosecutors expend significant resources in arresting and trying murder suspects. Typically the DA’s Major Crimes Division prosecutes murder cases in the county.
Homicide Crimes -- Conspiracy to Commit Murder
Even if no one is actually killed, you can still be prosecuted for conspiring to do so if there is at least one other co-conspirator involved, pursuant to California Penal Code section 182. See: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-182.html.
But an agreement to murder the victim is not enough – the prosecutor must also prove that you completed one or more overt acts in furtherance of that plan. Also keep in mind that the agreement can be implied (e.g., inferred from mere conduct alone).
If convicted of conspiring to commit first-degree murder, you will receive the same sentence as if you had actually successfully carried it out yourself. Pen Code § 182(a)(6).
See also Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (“CALCRIM”) number 563 (“Conspiracy to Commit Murder”) at: https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/500/563/.
Homicide Crimes -- Aiding and Abetting/Solicitating (First-Degree) Murder
Again, you can be convicted of first-degree murder even if you don’t personally kill the victim. The prosecutor need only prove the following to convict you as a co-conspirator
you harbored the specific intent to kill the victim;
you provided the actual “first-degree killer” aid;
you provided him or her encouragement;
you provided counseling to him or her;
you gave requests, instructions, or commands to the killer to commit the act; and/or
you convinced or influenced him or her to do so.
See California Penal Code section 189(e)(2) at: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-189.html.
Homicide Crimes – Lesser Included Offenses of First-Degree Murder
If the jury is unable to convict you of first-degree murder, they might still find you guilty of a lesser included charge, which can be – in descending order of severity – second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, or involuntary manslaughter.
Alternatively, if the prosecutor thinks you might prevail at trial or otherwise doesn’t want to expend time and resources prosecuting you for first-degree murder, he or she might offer you one of these lesser included offenses as a plea bargain.
See California Penal Code section 192(a)&(b) at: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-192.html.
See also CALCRIM number 570 (“Voluntary Manslaughter: Heat of Passion – Lesser Included Offense”) at: https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/500/570/; and CALCRIM number 580 (“Involuntary Manslaughter: Lesser Included Offense”) at: https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/500/580/.
Homicide Crimes -- “Attempted First-Degree Murder”
Just as with murder itself, an attempted murder charge is also divided into degrees, although that’s not how the latter crimes are identified in charging documents. Specifically, attempted first-degree murder is typically set forth in a criminal complaint as “deliberate and premeditated attempted murder”. To secure your conviction, the prosecutor need only prove that you had the specific intent to murder the victim and you took a direct step towards completing that goal.
Such a conviction often results in the same sentence as if you had actually completed the attempt – i.e., you would face a maximum of life in prison, though with potential parole.
See California Penal Code section 664(a) at: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-664.html.
See also CALCRIM number 600 (“Attempted Murder”) at: https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/500/600/; and CALCRIM number 601 (“Attempted Murder: Deliberation and Premeditation”) at: https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/500/601/.
California Statutes Regarding Homicide Crimes – First-Degree Murder
California Penal Code sections 187(a) & 188
These statutes define in general the crime of murder, without specifying the degree, as the unlawful killing of a person or fetus with “malice aforethought”.
These codes also emphasize that such malice (i.e., the specific intent to kill or to commit an inherently dangerous crime) can be implied (i.e., you displayed a wanton disregard for human life – typically proved by circumstantial evidence) or express (i.e., an intent to deliberately kill the victim – proved from your statements or other acts, such as reloading your revolver to complete the killing).
California Penal Code section 189(a)
In addition to any type of intentional killing with premeditation, this statute also identifies which types of killings constitute first-degree murder, including but not limited to the following:
using a bomb;
knowingly using armor-piercing rounds;
poisoning the victim;
laying in wait;
torturing the victim;
during the course of committing, or while attempting to commit the following crimes:
during a carjack;
kidnap or mutilation of victim;
a home invasion; or
Once again, even if you aren’t the actual killer, so long as you actively participated in the underlying inherently-dangerous felony and acted recklessly – i.e., in such a way that resulted in the victim’s death – you can still be convicted of first-degree murder under this statute. Pen. Code § 189(e)(3).
California Penal Code section 190
The legal threshold for obtaining a first-degree murder conviction is lowered when it comes to the killing of a police officer. So long as you knew or reasonably should have known the victim was such and acting in that capacity at the time, then you can be convicted.
Convictions and Sentencing Terms for Homicide Crimes – First-Degree Murder
Under California Penal Code section 190(a), a first-degree murder conviction will get you a minimum of twenty-five years – not including any sentencing enhancements (see below) – up to life in prison.
Sentencing Enhancements – Homicide Crimes – First-Degree Murder
If your first-degree murder conviction includes a proven hate-crime special allegation, then you’ll do mandatory life without parole (“LWOP”) pursuant to California Penal Code section 190.03(a).
See also CALCRIM number 523 (“First Degree Murder: Hate Crime”) at: https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/500/523/.
Three Strikes Law
Under California’s so-called “Three Strikes Law”, which is codified at California Penal Code section 667, if you were previously convicted of any of the enumerated “serious felonies” or “violent felonies”, as defined in California Penal Code section 1192.7, you will receive the following enhancements:
five years if this first-degree murder conviction is your first strike offense;
double the underlying sentence if this is your second (i.e., minimum sentence will be fifty years); and
minimum twenty-five-to-life if this is your third strike (which is obviously superfluous because of the minimum prison term for first-degree murder).
Life without parole or even the death penalty could apply if you personally murder someone during an inherently dangerous felony (bank robbery, carjacking, home invasion, rape, etc.). See Penal Code section 189(a).
Before then-Governor Jerry Brown enacted the new felony-murder rule at start of 2019, you could have been prosecuted under this law even if you didn’t personally kill anyone (i.e., your accomplice did) and, incredibly, even if your accomplice was killed by, say, a security guard during your jewelry store heist.
Capital Murder/Special Circumstances – First-Degree Murder
The state’s death-penalty law is codified at California Penal Code section 190.2, which gives a judge authority to sentence you to LWOP or death for the following first-degree murders (which is far from a complete list):
you committed the murder for money or other financial consideration;
you were previously convicted of first or second-degree murder;
multiple murder victims;
using a bomb;
you were trying to escape arrest or custody;
you killed a police officer acting as such (and you knew or should have known this);
you killed a witness to prevent him/her from reporting or testifying about a crime, or in retaliation after the fact for him/her doing so;
the victim is a prosecutor, judge, any other law enforcement agent, or an elected official, or he/she was formerly in that position (and that’s why you killed him/her); or
you laid in wait.
See: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-190-2.html. See also California Penal Code section 190.25 at: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-190-25.html.
Defenses to Homicide Crimes – First-Degree Murder Charges
The following defenses will all serve you well in defeating a first-degree murder charge:
nothing you did actually resulted in the victim’s death;
you did not commit an act which had consequences that were foreseeably dangerous (partial defense – implied malice only);
at no point did you act with conscious disregard for the victim’s life (same);
the murder was an excusable or justifiable homicide under state law (see, e.g., California Penal Code section 195 at: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-195.html);
self-defense or defense of another;
the death was the result of an accident (but not through your own recklessness);
the death resulted from a legal/lawful act or by a legal/lawful manner (i.e., you exercised reasonable caution);
you had less than the minimum amount of time to constitute deliberation/premeditation – i.e., you lacked malice aforethought (partial defense only – you could still be convicted of a lesser homicide offense);
you never intended to kill the victim or otherwise didn’t act in a wantonly reckless manner (same);
(10) the killing otherwise occurred in the heat of the moment (same);
(11) it resulted from your being involuntarily intoxicated or drugged;
(12) you were voluntarily intoxicated or under the influence of narcotics (partial defense).
See the following CALCRIM sections:
– CALCRIM number 520 (“First or Second Degree Murder With Malice Aforethought”) at: https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/500/520/;
CALCRIM number 521 (“First Degree Murder”) at: https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/500/521/;
CALCRIM number 522 (“Provocation: Effect on Degree of Murder”) at: https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/500/522/; and
CALCRIM number 548 (“Murder: Alternative Theories”) at: https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/500/548/.
Example of a Homicide Crime – First-Degree Murder Case
Innocent 18-year-old man spends 25 years in prison after being framed by LAPD homicide detective
In 1994, two groups of young people – some of whom were allegedly gang members – got into an altercation at a gas station near DTLA. Eighteen-year-old Arturo Jiminez was nearby when he heard the gunshots and drove to the station in his SUV to see if anyone needed medical attention. In fact, a fourteen-year-old participant named Hugo Colmenarez had just been shot and killed.
When Jiminez pulled in, some of the individuals involved in the altercation jumped into the open back of his SUV, as well as in his backseat, and yelled at him to drive away. The latter included a young lady who later told LAPD that she had caught a brief glimpse of the shooter, whom she identified as Jiminez. However, another young lady, who had been standing right next to the victim when he was shot, explicitly told a corrupt homicide detective that Jiminez was definitely not the shooter.
Unfortunately, that corrupt detective kept that highly exculpatory evidence out of his investigation report. Even worse, as would be revealed before trial, the sole eyewitness would admit that she had been coerced by this detective into identifying Jiminez as the culprit.
As a result of the multiple felonies committed by this detective (who apparently wasn’t identified in the media) – ranging from subornation of perjury, dissuading a witness from reporting and testifying, and falsifying a police report – in 1995, Jiminez was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
(Jiminez’s defense attorney was subsequently disbarred – apparently for failing to use the eyewitness’s recanted testimony, which, again, the lawyer had obtained before trial, in his defense.)
For many years thereafter, the actual shooter repeatedly confessed to various people that he had been the actual killer. This man, who also hasn’t been identified in the media, has since died.
On or about April 9, 2020, after spending the next twenty-five years in prison, Jiminez (now forty-four) was finally paroled to a halfway house.
Four months later, thanks to years of tireless work on his behalf by the Northern California Innocence Project, an LA superior court judge dismissed the conviction with prejudice and immediately set Jiminez free from the halfway house. The judge had cited both the fact that Jiminez had been denied a fair trial by the detective’s crimes and had received ineffective assistance of counsel.
Homicide Crimes – Example of a Case Involving a Capital Murder/Special-Circumstances Murder Case
Four men are convicted on murder and robbery charges for beating to death a USC student with a bat
On or about July 23, 2014 in the early morning hours, USC grad student Xinran Ji (twenty-four) was strolling back to his on-campus dorm after a study session with classmates. Suddenly, four men approached him and tried to rob him.
One of them, Al Ochoa (eighteen), struck him with a baseball bat before the victim escaped on foot. Accomplice Andy Garcia (nineteen) then grabbed the bat, ran after Ji, and struck him at least several more times with it. All four men then fled (without taking anything from the victim). Ji somehow managed to get home, where he died in his bed later that night.
Thereafter, all four men were arrested by LAPD and charged with first-degree murder and related felonies. Alejandro Guerrero (eighteen at the time of the murder) took his chances at trial and was found guilty of the former charge, as well as numerous robbery-related felonies, in October 2016. Because of the special circumstance involving murder committed during an attempted robbery, he received LWOP.
In August 2017, John Del Carmen (nineteen at the time of the murder) accepted a guilty plea to second-degree murder and, as a result, only received a decade-and-a-half in prison with no enhancements. If this was his first strike conviction, he could be released in as little as ten years with good behavior.
That same month, a jury convicted Garcia of all counts, including first-degree murder and various robbery offenses. Jurors unanimously agreed that the killing was a special-circumstances murder because it was committed while he was trying to rob the victim. He, too, received LWOP.
In December 2018, Ochoa was also convicted for the same offenses, and four months later also received LWOP.
Homicide Crimes – Example of a First-Degree Murder Case Involving a Celebrity
The night of August 25, 1993, would turn out to be the worst in then-rising rap star Snoop Dogg’s life. According to numerous witnesses who testified at his trial, Snoop (then twenty-one) and his bodyguard McKinley Lee (same) got into an altercation with a local gangbanger named Phil Woldemariam (twenty-five).
This confrontation occurred outside of Snoop’s apartment in Palms where Snoop, Lee, and other friends were hanging out. Someone apparently flashed a gang sign as Woldemariam and several friends drove by.
In response, Woldemariam yelled to Snoop’s group that they were standing in his gang’s ‘hood, then yelled obscenities at them. Snoop then jumped into the driver’s seat of his vehicle with Lee getting into the passenger seat and several other friends hopping into the backseat. Snoop then followed Woldemariam’s vehicle to a local park where the altercation quickly escalated. (Snoop was allegedly affiliated with or a member of a Long Beach Crips set at the time.)
As Snoop’s one and only defense witness would testify, Woldemariam reached into his waistband for a gun at which point Lee pulled out his own and shot him several times, killing him. Several of the prosecution’s witnesses – Woldemariam’s friends – admitted that they had taken Woldemariam’s gun off him and fled with it in an attempt to ensure Snoop and Lee were convicted for an unjustified killing.
As a result of the shooting, warrants were issued for Snoop and Lee’s arrest on first-degree murder charges. Ten days later, Snoop surrendered after presenting an award at a ceremony. Both defendants were released after posting $2.5 million bail.
Snoop’s record-shattering debut album would be released several months later and sell almost five million copies by the time they went to trial. While the media publicity surrounding the shooting and trial undoubtedly improved sales and gave Snoop “street cred”, it also made the next two-and-a-half years of his life while he awaited trial a living nightmare.
On February 20, 1996, the jury found Snoop and Lee not guilty of all counts, including murder and conspiracy. In addition, the jurors hung on the lesser included charge of voluntary manslaughter against the defendants, as well as the remaining count of conspiracy after the fact against Snoop for allegedly destroying evidence of his driving that night. Prosecutors declined to re-try the men on those charges.
The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm (LADALF)
LADALF’s founder Ninaz Saffari has wanted to defend murder cases ever since she first clerked in law school for famed San Francisco criminal-defense and civil-rights lawyer J. Tony Serra, and helped him acquit Rick Tabish in his October 2004 re-trial for the sensational alleged-murder of casino heir Ted Binion in September 1988.
Since then, she has defended many clients against every kind of murder charge. As of this writing (late October 2020), she is currently defending clients on three separate first-degree murder cases, including a special-circumstances murder involving allegations of lying in wait, gang enhancements, and discharging of a firearm. She is also defending several other clients against attempted murder charges.
Local media coverage of these murder cases can be found at the following:
Los Angeles Times: Homicide Report – LADALF Client Subsequently Charged for First-Degree Murder of Alleged Victim Ian Brown
July 3, 2020
Daily Breeze: LADALF Client Subsequently Charged for Alleged Capital Murders of Two People and Alleged Attempted Murder of Third Person in Wilmington
September 19, 2019
CBS News Los Angeles: LADALF Client Charged With First-Degree Murder of Woman and Attempted Murder of Her Husband In Long Beach
January 13, 2017