The crime of murder is one of the worst. It also comes with the harshest sentencing, including life in prison and the death penalty. However, the severity of the charge depends on which degree of murder you face.
According to FindLaw, California has first-degree or second-degree murder charge options. Both types of murder require you to have the intent to murder. If the situation lacked intent, it would be manslaughter, not murder.
First-degree murder is the most severe charge. It requires the prosecutor to show that you planned the death. It is a difficult charge to prove because there are several circumstances that must be present.
The prosecutor must show that you used a specific type of weapon when committing the crime. Weapons include bombs and guns. You must use these weapons in certain circumstances, such as shooting from a car or using bullets that can go through metal.
Another potential requirement that could lead to a first-degree murder charge is if you were waiting for the person with the specific goal of killing him or her. Also, if the murder occurs during the commission of another felony, then it is a first-degree charge.
If the prosecutor cannot prove the special circumstances for first-degree murder, then he or she must charge you with second-degree murder. As long as the prosecutor can show there was intent on your part to commit the crime, then he or she can use the second-degree charge. Otherwise, it is not murder and it falls under manslaughter.
Facing murder charges is never a good situation, but a good defense is to get the charges lowered as much as possible through disproving intent or special circumstances.