Aside from sexual offenses, violent crimes typically carry the harshest penalties under California law for the simple reason that they entail either severe injury or even death to the victim, or at least the threat of severe injury or death. Indeed, in the most extreme cases, you could face life imprisonment without the possibility of parole or even the death penalty.

As a result, if you are being charged with a violent crime, it is critical that you be represented by a highly competent, skilled, and experienced attorney because your life may literally be on the line.

(For purposes of brevity, assault, domestic violence, and sex crimes – both of which obviously can involve significant degrees of violence, including death – are discussed elsewhere on this website.)

Types of Violent Crimes

Homicide Offenses

Homicide offenses range from accidental – though criminally negligent deaths – such as hot-car deaths or vehicular manslaughter – all the way up to deliberate, premeditated murders with special circumstances (known as capital offenses with potential death penalty implications).

The primary difference between these various crimes is your state of mind, also known as mens rea. If you had the specific intent to kill the victim, then depending on the circumstances, you will be charged with capital, first-degree, or second-degree murder. Or, if you had the general intent to do so, then your degree of criminal culpability drops slightly.

And, of course, if you had no intent to do so, then you will be charged with the least severe homicide offenses. In any event, the one thing they all have in common is that you killed the victim without legal justification and in an unlawful/illegal way.

More specifically, a homicide crime involves any Penal Code violation that results in the victim’s death, whether intentional or unintentional. These primarily include the following crimes:

  1. Murder (First and Second Degree & Capital Murder/Special Circumstances); 

  2. Attempted Murder; and 

  3. Manslaughter (Voluntary Manslaughter and Involuntary Manslaughter).

Non-Homicide Offenses

These typically involve serious injury or the threat of the same:

  1. Kidnapping;

  2. Robbery;

  3. Extortion;

  4. Criminal Threats;

  5. Dissuading A Witness Or Victim;

  6. Mayhem and Aggravated Mayhem; and

  7. Gang Enhancement.

Lesser Included Offenses

A “lesser included offense” (“LIO”) is a legal term that refers to a reduced charge that may or may not contain all of the criminal elements as set forth in the California Penal Code. Elements are separate factual allegations which the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt in order to secure a conviction of a more serious charge, particularly in regard to a violent crime.

This is important because you may very well either accept an LIO as your guilty or no-contest plea, or you may be convicted of the LIO instead of the more serious violent crime at trial.

If the LIO does include all of the elements of a more serious crime, then it’s known as a “necessarily included offense" (“NIO”). In other words, by committing the more serious crime, you necessarily also committed the lesser one.

This is important because the trial judge may give an instruction to the jury that if they don’t find you guilty of the more serious violent crime, they may nevertheless convict you of the NIO – assuming, of course, that the jurors find true each of the NIO elements of that lesser crime.

Alternatively, your defense attorney might request that the judge issue a jury instruction for the NIO if your lawyer is concerned you might be convicted of the more serious offense. In other words, he or she might want to give the jurors an alternative conviction with significantly less harsh consequences for you.

In California, as a defendant you do not automatically have the right to such an instruction – your lawyer must formally request it from the court. The only exception is where there is significant proof that you only committed the lesser crime; in which case, the judge is required to give the instruction.

See People v. Birks, 19 Cal.4th 108 (1998) at: https://law.justia.com/cases/california/supreme-court/4th/19/108.html.

Next, the prosecutor may offer you an LIO as a plea deal if he or she thinks you might not be convicted of the more serious offense at trial.

So here’s how one of these scenarios might play out. Suppose you were being tried for first-degree murder and, therefore, you’re facing a possible life sentence. See California Penal Code section 190(a) at: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-190.html.

If there’s no doubt that you did in fact kill the victim (for example, the act was recorded by a security camera), then your defense lawyer should ask the judge to give the jury an LIO instruction for voluntary manslaughter.

That way if the jurors can’t agree on the first-degree-murder element of premeditation, they can still feel justice was served by convicting you of manslaughter, which carries “only” a maximum eleven-year sentence (excluding any enhancements) – obviously a much better outcome for you.

See Penal Code section 193 at: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-193.html.

Violent Crimes – “Wobblers”

Most violent crimes can only be charged as a felony, which always carries the possibility of prison. In other words, the Assistant District Attorney prosecuting the case lacks the discretion to charge you with a misdemeanor instead.

But there are some exceptions and, thus, these violent crimes are known as “wobblers” pursuant to California Penal Code section 17. See: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-17.html. The following short list of violent crimes in California are considered wobblers:

  1. Dissuading a witness or victim from testifying or reporting – Penal Code section 136.1(a)&(b) (see: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-136-1.html);

  2. Vehicular manslaughter – Penal Code section 192(c)(1)&(3) (see: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-192.html);

  3. Making a criminal threat involving violence – Penal Code section 422 (see: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-422.html); and

  4. Attempting to commit extortion – Penal Code section 524 (see: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-524.html)

Violent Crimes -- “Strike” Offenses

If you’ve previously been convicted of a “serious” felony (defined below), upon your second such conviction, you will receive a sentencing enhancement. This second serious-felony conviction will be known as a “strike” offense under Penal Code section 667. See: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-667.html.

Under Penal Code section 1192.7(c), a “serious” felony includes the following violent crimes:

  1. first and second-degree murder;

  2. attempted murder;

  3. voluntary manslaughter;

  4. mayhem (see Penal Code section 203 at: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-203.html);

  5. robbery (see Penal Code section 211 at: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-211.html);

  6. assaulting a robbery victim;

  7. detonating a bomb with the intent to injure or actually causing severe injury;

  8. kidnapping or taking someone hostage;

  9. extortion;

  10. carjacking; 

  11. committing a drive-by shooting; 

  12. intimidating a victim of, or a witness to, a crime (see Penal Code section 136.1 at: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-136-1.html); 

  13. making a criminal threat (see Penal Code section 422 at: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-422.html);

  14. any felony where you personally cause severe physical injury on the victim; or 

  15. any felony where you personally use a gun or other dangerous/deadly weapon.

See: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-1192-7.html.

Strikes are important to understand because they come with the following significant penalty enhancements:

  1. an extra five years on your prison term if this is your first strike conviction; 

  2. double the prison sentence for the underlying crime if this is your second strike;

  3. twenty-five-to-life upon a third strike conviction; and

  4. you’ll have to serve at least 85% of your sentence, even with good behavior.

Attempted Violent Crimes

Not surprisingly, if you attempt but fail to commit a violent crime, you will nevertheless be charged with a felony (save for those few wobbler exceptions described above). If convicted, you can therefore still face serious prison time.

Specifically, under California Penal Code section 664(a)&(b), if the judge is going to sentence you to serve time in a county jail or state penal institution, you will receive 50% of the sentence you otherwise would have received if you had been convicted of successfully completing the violent crime. See: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-664.html.

There is an exception for attempted first-degree murder, which essentially carries the same penalty – i.e., a possible life sentence (with possible parole).

A second exception exists for all other attempted violent crimes which would otherwise carry a possible life or death-penalty sentence if successfully completed. In those cases, the sentences are inexplicably “light”: five, seven or nine years in the penitentiary. Pen. Code § 664(a).

Convictions & Sentences for Violent Crimes

Depending on the type of violent-crime felony you’re convicted of, you could serve little, if any, jail time (i.e., probation only plus restitutions, court costs, etc.), or you could face life in prison. (Even with a death sentence -- which hasn’t been carried out in California in more than 15 years -- so long as a Democrat serves as governor, there is little chance of you’re being executed.)

Low Term, Mid Term, and High Term Sentences

If you are sentenced to prison, then depending on various factors – including your prior record, the degree of injury (if any) to the victim, any expression of remorse on your part, any probation report, etc. – the judge will sentence you to either a low, mid or high term for the sentence as set forth in the specific Penal Code section applicable to your case.

For example, the crimes of extortion and blackmail are each punishable by two, three, or four years in prison pursuant to Penal Code section 520. See: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-520.html.

Sentencing Enhancements

Violent-crime convictions typically carry enhancements for many different factors, including the following:

  1. inflicting severe physical injury on the victim; 

  2. the age of the victim (very young or very old); 

  3. personal use of a gun or dangerous weapon;

  4. use of a firearm or dangerous weapon during commission of a felony;

  5. gang enhancement; and

  6. organized-crime enhancement.

(These enhancements are far too numerous to discuss here but they are explained in the various sub-practice area pages on this website.)

Defenses to Violent Crimes

As with the range of sentences upon conviction, defenses to violent crime charges are too numerous to discuss in detail here; however, they do include the following:

  1. self-defense or defense of another; 

  2. insanity (which rarely works at trial);

  3. involuntary intoxication;

  4. voluntary intoxication (defense to specific-intent allegation);

  5. diminished capacity (in general);

  6. necessity; and

  7. consent.

Examples of Violent Crimes – Felony Cases

Los Angeles resident sentenced to almost 100 years in prison for victimizing elderly Pasadena women

On or about June 21, 2012, LA resident Alonzo Johnson allegedly burglarized an almost eighty-year-old woman’s Pasadena home. According to South Pasadena PD, she walked in on him as he was ransacking her bedroom. After grabbing the jewelry he found, he allegedly ran out of the house, leaving behind fingerprints and DNA.

Approximately six weeks later (on or about August 5, 2012), Johnson allegedly did the same thing, this time in a South Pasadena residence. However, this time when confronted by the owner (another woman almost 80 years old), he allegedly punched her in the face, shattering her nose, then dragged her into another room and threatened her with a knife before binding her hands and forcing her to lie prone.

According to SPPD, he kept striking her, claiming he would kill her if she didn’t give up her jewelry. Her injuries allegedly included brain damage and a broken eardrum. Johnson then allegedly fled when her two grandchildren entered the room. As before, authorities said he grabbed the victim’s jewelry when he fled, apparently leaving behind physical evidence.

Johnson was arrested several days later but for some inexplicable reason his trial was not held until almost four years later. (Presumably, because of the age of the victims, their testimony was videotaped not long after the arrest, which raises the question of whether Johnson’s lawyer – presumably a Deputy Public Defender – was able to cross-examine them.)

In any event, jurors convicted Johnson of all felony counts (all strike offenses): robbery of a home (first degree), kidnapping (for the purpose of robbing the victim), and residential burglary (first-degree with victim at home).

Three weeks later, the judge sentenced him to almost a hundred years in prison, including enhancements for the age of the victim, the personal use of a dangerous weapon, the use of that weapon in the course of the robbery, and infliction of severe injury on a person over sixty-four years old.

See: https://da.lacounty.gov/sites/default/files/press/082616_Man_Sentenced_to_Prison_for_Kidnapping_Elderly_Woman_During_Home_Robbery_in_San_Gabriel_Valley.pdf.

More than 30 members and associates of MS-13 sentenced for extorting food truck proprietors

Between the summer of 2007 and the summer of 2012, LA authorities alleged that thirty-one members and associates of MS-13 had jointly extorted by threat of force numerous Hollywood food truck proprietors, forcing them to pay “street tax” to operate. On or about January 27, 2013, they were all indicted by almost half-a-dozen grand juries, and all defendants eventually pled guilty or were convicted at trial for conspiracy and extortion. As a result, by April 7, 2016, they were all sentenced to prison terms ranging from eight to thirty-eight years.

See: https://da.lacounty.gov/sites/default/files/press/040816_Last_of_MS_13_Gang_Members_Sentenced_for_Extortion.pdf.

Pacoima man sentenced to seventy-plus-years-to-life for attacking ex-girlfriend’s family

On or about December 17, 2016, Pacoima resident Jorge Gomez allegedly home-invaded the Panorama City residence of his former lover’s mom, assaulting the latter, as well as the former’s siblings (who were one and three years old, respectively). He then allegedly fled, leading police on an excessive-speed car chase until he crashed into a parked car in Glendale. After a 4-hour barricade, LAPD finally arrested him.

Twenty-two months later, on Halloween 2018, jurors convicted him of the following felonies: attempted murder, ADW (assault w/ deadly weapon), intimidating a witness with threats of violence, and attempted escape of pursuing police in a vehicle.

One month later (on or about November 27th), the judge gave him a sentence of seventy-plus-years-to-life in a California penitentiary, including enhancements for the personal use of a deadly weapon (a knife) and the infliction of severe physical injury.

See: https://da.lacounty.gov/sites/default/files/press/112818_Man_Sentenced_for_Domestic_Violence_Attack_in_Panorama_City_Standoff_in_Glendale.pdf.

Examples of Violent Crimes Involving Celebrities

Christian Brando, son of Academy-Award winning actor, Marlon, gets ten years for manslaughter

In May 1990, Christian Brando, the son of the famous actor Marlon, admittedly shot and killed his younger sister Cheyenne’s boyfriend, Dag Drollet (who was also the father of her infant), at Marlon’s mansion in the Hollywood Hills.

According to Christian, he had shot Drollet inadvertently while they were struggling over the pistol during a fistfight over the latter allegedly beating Cheyenne. Notwithstanding, the LA Co. DA’s Office charged him with first-degree murder; however, nine months later (in February 1991), they allowed him to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter.

But even with the greatly reduced plea, the prosecutors still sought a sixteen-year sentence. (The prosecutors admitted to the judge that they only accepted the lesser plea because the only witness to shooting, Cheyenne, had left the country and was unavailable to testify.)

Instead, on or about March 2, 1991, Christian received a decade-long term in a state penal institution, including a four-year enhancement for use of a firearm. Christian was released after only completing half his sentence for good behavior.

See: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1991-03-01-me-1857-story.html.

Actor Michael Jace (The Shield) receives a 40-year sentence after allegedly murdering his wife

In May 2014, Michael Jace, a lead actor in the Fox network’s hit TV series The Shield, allegedly shot his wife of almost a decade, April, three times, killing her in front of their two children. Jace recklessly gave an interview to homicide detectives after he was arrested, reportedly admitting that he did intend to shoot her but only in the leg. The LA County DA’s Office believed this was a cold-blooded murder and that his motive stemmed from a desire to divorce his wife whom he believed was cheating on him.

At the trial, his attorney claimed that Jace – who wisely did not take the stand – did so after a violent argument and, therefore, the killing was not premeditated (which would have made him culpable for first-degree murder). The jury apparently believed this defense and therefore convicted him of murder in the 2nd degree. Notwithstanding, on or about June 9, 2016, the judge gave him a term of four decades in a state penitentiary, including a firearm enhancement.

See: https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-michael-jace-sentenced-20160610-snap-story.html.

Disney TV star Adam Hicks is charged with a string of armed robberies (current LADALF client)

Just before dawn on or about January 24, 2018, ex-Disney television star Adam Hicks (Zeke and Luther, Lemonade; the Hulu series Freakish) allegedly used a firearm to rob or attempt to rob four different people within minutes of each other in Burbank. Burbank PD claimed he did so with the help of a female companion, Danni Tamburo, who allegedly drove and encouraged him to do so.

The first purported victim – a middle-aged man – allegedly claimed that a male had tried to take his billfold at gunpoint, but the former simply fled on foot. While Burbank PD was supposedly getting this information from this middle-aged man, three other pedestrians were also allegedly approached by the same armed man, who demanded their wallets and/or cell phones – all within the same vicinity.

According to police, these purported victims all described this particular man, as well as the car he had been riding in. The vehicle’s license plate allegedly led police to the pair’s local apartment, which was raided by a special weapons and tactics team, who arrested Hicks and Tamburo.

If convicted of all armed-robbery charges, Hicks could receive as much as thirty-one years in prison. Note: Hicks is currently being represented by LADALF founding attorney Ninaz Saffari.

See: https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/people/2018/01/25/adam-hicks-disney-arrested-armed-robberies/1068172001/.

The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm (LADALF)

As LADALF’s senior attorney and founder, Ninaz Saffari has defended hundreds of clients over the prior 1.5 decades-plus against violent-crime charges ranging from robbery to murder. Indeed, as a Deputy Public Defender for LA County, she received extraordinary training and trial experience in handling these types of cases. As of this writing (October 2020), her violent-crime caseload includes, but is certainly not limited, to the following:

  1. three murder cases, including capital murder (special circumstances – potential death penalty);

  2. several attempted murder cases (potential life sentences);

  3. multiple robbery cases (including allegations of a string of four armed robberies against her client, former Disney actor Adam Hicks); and

  4. a criminal threat case (potential life sentence because if convicted of this felony, client will be sentenced for a third strike)

Because of the dire consequences facing her clients if convicted, Ninaz spares no time, energy or expense in fighting these cases – for years, if necessary. But her outstanding and unparalleled track record (including a recent dismissal of an attempted murder charge) speaks for itself.