Murder is the most severe criminal charge that a person can face. With potential sentences that include the death penalty, the stakes do not get any higher. 

If you have a murder or homicide charge, you need a criminal defense lawyer prepared to fight for you.

Murder defense lawyer Kerry L. Armstrong and his team with the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, are some of the top defense attorneys in the state.

With their vast experience and extensive resources, our lawyers are ready to defend you when you need it most.

What Is Murder in California?

California Penal Code section §187 defines murder as “the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.”

What does that mean, exactly?

An experienced homicide lawyer like Kerry L. Armstrong will explain that an unlawful killing means that the person who killed another had no justification or excuse to kill.

For example, the law entitles you to use deadly force to defend yourself or another person. We refer to this as self-defense, and that is a legal justification for killing someone.


The prosecution must also prove that you had the mental intent to kill before you carried out the act.

The mental intent for murder is called malice aforethought. California law recognizes two kinds of malice: express malice and implied malice. 

A person acts with express malice when the person unlawfully acts with the intent to kill.

A violent yet straightforward example would be one person shooting another in the head intentionally at point-blank range. 

Implied malice is harder to define. A person acts with implied malice when they know an act is hazardous to human life, but they do it anyway, without regard for the consequences to others.

For example, a person who fires a gun into a crowd and kills someone acts with conscious disregard for human life.

When Do You Need a First-Degree Murder Lawyer?

Murder under California Penal Code section §187 is either first-degree or second-degree murder.

The case becomes first-degree murder if the prosecutor proves that the murder was committed willfully, deliberately, and with premeditation, or if it was committed in a number of other ways via aggravating factors. 

These aggravating factors are listed in California Penal Code section §189

That statute defines first-degree murder and includes a long list of aggravating factors that elevate second-degree murder to first-degree murder.

Some aggravated circumstances include:

  • Killing another in the commission of a listed felony (otherwise known as “felony murder”);
  • Shooting from a motor vehicle;
  • Using a bomb or explosive device; 
  • Poisoning;
  • Lying in wait; and
  • Torture.

Other factors like the homicide victim was a police officer acting in the line of duty could also raise the killing to first-degree murder.

A conviction for first-degree murder could mean life in prison without parole or the death penalty. 

Experience Matters the Most When the Stakes Are the Highest

Having a murder defense attorney with decades of experience on your side can help give you the best shot at beating your case or facing a reduced charge. Not any felony lawyer will do.

Murder defense lawyer Kerry L. Armstrong has tried nearly 100 cases to jury trial, and he and his team in San Diego, California, have received many accolades over the years.

In 2020, the State Bar of California granted Mr. Armstrong board certification as a legal specialist in criminal law. Not many lawyers can claim such a distinction.

He and his staff with the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, are available 24/7 by calling 619-234-2300. We are ready to fight for you.