Can some people be sentenced to the death penalty for a murder conviction while others are not? Does handing down the death penalty to only some people convicted of murder result in violating those people’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment?
In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972) that issuing the death penalty to a “random handful” of people convicted of murder violates their Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. That is why California Penal Code Section 190.2 exists.
What is Special Circumstances Murder? (PC 190.2)
PC 190.2 is the California law that defines “special circumstances murder.” First degree murder is punishable by 25 years to life in state prison. However, if you are convicted of “special circumstances murder” under PC 190.2, you could be sentenced to the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Under PC 190.2, there are 12 “special circumstances” where murder could lead to you facing life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty. These 12 special circumstances are:
A murder carried out intentionally for financial gain or benefit is considered a special circumstances murder. This includes murder committed to:
- Collect life insurance
- Avoid alimony payments, and
- Eliminate business competition
Previous Murder Conviction(s)
If you have previously been convicted of first or second degree murder in California or another state, a subsequent murder could be charged as murder with special circumstances.
Use of a Bomb
Planting, throwing, mailing or delivering a bomb, explosive or destructive device is a special circumstance if you reasonably knew or should’ve known your act would create a great risk of death.
Preventing or Escaping Arrest
It is considered a special circumstance if you committed murder with the purpose of avoiding or preventing a lawful arrest or to escape lawful custody.
Murder of a Public Safety Officer
You could face life in prison or the death penalty if you commit murder on a peace officer, firefighter, law enforcement agent or other public safety officer while the officer was performing his or her duties.
Murder of a Witness
Murder of a witness is a special circumstance when:
- You intended to kill a witness in a criminal or juvenile proceeding
- The witness was not killed during the commission of the crime that he or she witnessed, and
- You intended to kill the witness either to prevent him or her from testifying in a criminal or juvenile case, or as retaliation for his or her past testimony.
Lying in Wait
If you accomplished murder by “lying in wait,” it could be considered murder with special circumstances. “Lying in wait” is when you:
- Purposefully hid from the victim
- Watched and waited for an opportunity to act
- Made a surprise attack on the victim from a position of advantage, and
- Had the intent to kill the victim by surprise
Murder Due to Race or Religion
If your motivation for the murder was the victim’s race, religion, nationality or country of origin, you could face life in prison or the death penalty.
Murder During the Commission of a Felony
If you murder someone while committing a separate felony offense, your murder could have special circumstances. Felony offenses include rape, robbery, arson and kidnapping.
Torture or Poison
Murder using poison, torture or acts that would cause extreme physical pain can result in a conviction of special circumstances murder.
Killing someone by means of a drive-by shooting could be considered a special circumstances murder under PC 190.2 if you intended to kill the victim.
Murder by a Street Gang Member
Committing a murder to benefit a criminal street gang is a special circumstances murder. In order for this special circumstance to apply, you must:
- Have intentionally killed the victim
- Been an active participant in the gang at the time of the killing
- Have known that members of the gang had engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity, and
- Have performed the murder to further the activities of the gang
Contact the Murder Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich Today
Your future is at stake if you are accused of special circumstances murder. That is why you should contact an experienced murder defense attorney immediately if you are accused of this crime. At Wallin & Klarich, our skilled criminal defense attorneys have more than 35 years of experience successfully defending clients facing murder charges. Let us help you now.
With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville, West Covina, Torrance, Los Angeles and San Diego, you can find an experienced Wallin & Klarich murder defense attorney available near you no matter where you are located.
Call our office today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.