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Fresno Murder Defense Attorney

Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer recognizes that these cases are complex and things aren’t always as they seem. You or your loved one may have been falsely accused because of faulty eyewitness evidence, or perhaps there is a legal justification to the conduct, like self-defense. Fresno murder defense attorney Michael McKneely also understands the importance of gathering all of the information. When the facts are laid out by a skillful lawyer, they can paint an entirely different picture. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney from Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer located in Fresno County today (559) 443-7442 to see how he can fight for your rights and defend you or your loved one.

A homicide charge can have a catastrophic impact on your life. What’s worse, if this isn’t your first serious or violent offense, you may be subjected to California’s repeat offender initiative known as the Three Strikes Law. The penalties can be devastating, and it is very difficult to get parole if you are convicted of certain homicides, which makes fighting the charge in court and avoiding conviction absolutely essential.

Murder Defined

Penal Code Section 187 defines murder in California. It is the unlawful killing of a human being, with “malice aforethought.” Malice aforethought generally means that the killing was intentional, or committed under circumstances where it could fairly be said that killing was intended. A person’s state of mind during the homicide is critical to determining whether an unlawful death was a murder or a manslaughter.

First-Degree Murder

Murder in the first-degree is generally the premeditated killing of another. That is, the killer acted after thinking about the choice to kill someone. The deliberation process can be very quick, but it must be proven to have occurred. However, the following situations are also treated as murder in the first-degree under California law:

  • Killing with an explosive device or weapon of mass destruction
  • Poisoning
  • Torturing a victim or lying in wait for the victim
  • Unintentionally killing someone while committing a serious or violent felony

Capital Murder

California authorizes the use of the death penalty in “special circumstance” cases. These first degree murders have only two possible sentences—death or life in prison without possibility of parole (LWOP). Special circumstances include:

  • Killing multiple victims
  • Killing a witness to stop them from speaking out
  • Killing for financial gain
  • Killing a police officer
  • Killing someone because of their religion, race, color, or ethnicity
  • Killing as a result of a drive by or for the benefit of a gang

Second-Degree Murder

All murders that aren’t first-degree murders are second-degree murders. These are willful and unlawful killings, but not in a manner that is premeditated. For example, a person who killed someone by shooting into a busy street may not have intended to kill someone, but doing so is still willful and dangerous to human life and is, therefore, murder.

Manslaughter Defined

Unlike other forms of homicide, manslaughter does not involve malice aforethought, or intent. At its core, it is unlawfully killing a human being in a way that doesn’t rise to the level of murder. There are three main forms—voluntary, involuntary, and vehicular.

  • Voluntary Manslaughter– A homicide that occurs during an altercation or as a result of provocation
  • Involuntary Manslaughter– An unintentional killing that occurs as the result of recklessness or criminal negligence
  • Vehicular Manslaughter– A homicide that, although unintentional, results from criminal negligence while operating a motorized vehicle

Conviction Penalties


California has mandatory sentencing guidelines for murder. Prison time ranges from 15 years on the low end to life without parole or even the death penalty. The consequences for different murder charges are listed below in the order of severity.

  • Basic Second Degree Murder– 15 years to life
  • Second Degree Murder “Drive-By Shooting”– 20 years to life
  • Second Degree Murder with a Prior Murder Conviction– 15 years to life or life without parole
  • Second Degree Murder of a Police Officer– 25 years to life or life without parole
  • First Degree Murder– 25 years to life
  • First Degree Murder as a Hate Crime – Life without parole
  • First Degree Murder with a Special Circumstance– Death penalty or life without parole


The penalties for manslaughter are far less severe than those assigned for murder, but they still involve prison time. California has separate punishments for each type of manslaughter.

  • Voluntary Manslaughter– 3, 6, or 11 years in prison
  • Involuntary Manslaughter– 2, 3, or 4 years in county jail and a fine of up to $10,000
  • Vehicular Manslaughter– 1, 2, 4, 6, or 10 years in jail or prison

Defending Murder and Manslaughter Cases

A skilled attorney can make the difference between a conviction and a dismissal. Effective defenses to murder charges include:

  • You acted in self defense
  • You may have been wrongfully identified as the perpetrator
  • Perhaps you were not involved, but you were at the scene

If a dismissal is not possible, reducing the charge from murder to manslaughter may be an option. If an experienced California murder defense attorney can prove that you were provoked or acted in self-defense, it is likely that your charges can be reduced. The penalties for manslaughter and murder are harsh and can lead to spending decades in prison.

Talk to a Fresno Murder Defense Attorney Today

There are a number of strategies that a skilled murder defense lawyer in Fresno can employ on your behalf against your murder or manslaughter charges. Call Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer today at (559) 443-7442 to set up a free consultation. If you’re facing murder or manslaughter charges in California or are under investigation, preserve your legal rights by contacting us right away. Fresno criminal defense lawyer Michael McKneely has been on both sides of the criminal justice system, so he knows what to expect and how to make the process easier for you.

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