This past week a 15 year old boy in Montebello, CA, a suburb of Los Angeles, was charged with two counts of murder for the shooting death of a man and his 12 year old son at a graduation party. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office charged the minor as an adult and filed 2 counts of murder with the use of a gun against the teen.
In California, the prosecution may file adult charges on a minor that commits certain violent crimes. One of those crimes of course is murder. Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. Malice aforethought is defined as an intent to kill. The LADA’s Office also charged this minor with a gang allegation. The gang allegation is charged under Penal Code Section 186.22. This is used to prove intent and motive for the killing. For example, the prosecution wants to prove that the killing was intentional and was planned a head of time. This would make the level of murder 1st degree murder. The punishment for first degree murder is 25 years to life. The fact, as in this case, the defendant is charged with a second murder increases the penalty and punishment even higher. California criminal law allows for a person convicted of multiple murder to be sentenced to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole. Because the defendant charged in this crime is a minor, by law, he is not allowed to be given the death penalty and the judge would have to sentence him to life in prison without parole.
Because the defendant is also charged with shooting the two victims, he faces another 25 years to life for the use of the gun in each count. Therefore, the defendant faces a maximum sentence of life without the possibility of parole plus 50 years to life for the gun allegation.
The prosecution would need to show that the defendant had a motive and premeditated the killings. Premeditated just means thought about the crime for some period of time prior to committing the killings. If the prosecution can show this then the defendant can be sentenced to the maximum amount of time.
The burden then shifts to the Southern California defense attorney to show that there were legal defense to the killings. The defense attorney would need to show that the killings were either justified as in self defense, or defense of another person, or that the killings were not committed with malice aforethought. Without malice aforethought, then the killings would be considered either 2nd degree murder or manslaughter. This would reduce the maximum sentence and the defendant could be eligible for parole at some time int he future.
If the defense attorney can show that the killings were in the heat of passion then the charges could be reduced from murder to manslaughter and the punishment for manslaughter is significantly lower then for murder. The defense attorney could also show that the prosecution has the wrong person in custody and that the identity of the killer is not known and therefore the defendant is not guilty of the crimes since he was not the one who committed the crime. Remember, the prosecution must not only prove that the murders occurred, but they must prove that the person charged with the crime did the murders, as well as the level of intent and planning that went into the murders.