What’s the Difference Between Express and Implied Malice?
California’s homicide statutes state that a person commits murder when they kill another individual with malice aforethought. The laws also say that malice can be expressed or implied. Express means that the alleged actor intended to kill. Implied means that the alleged actor did or failed to do something that showed a malignant heart. Malice is characteristic of murder in general and is not what separates first- and second-degree offenses. Rather, these crimes are distinguished by whether the alleged actor had planned to take another person’s life.
The Definition of Murder
California Penal Code § 187 provides that murder occurs when someone kills another person with malice aforethought. Malice aforethought is the state of mind required for an act to be considered murder.
Malice refers to the desire to do something cruel. While aforethought means that the actor had considered engaging in the act before doing it. Thus, malice aforethought means that the alleged actor planned to do something harsh, such as taking another person’s life.
The law does not state that any set period of time for deliberation must pass before a person is considered to have acted with malice aforethought. Additionally, malice aforethought does not mean that the alleged actor had ill will toward the other person. It merely refers to the idea of engaging in a cruel act without a legally valid excuse or justification.
Express and Implied Malice
According to California’s laws, malice can be expressed or implied. Malice is expressed when someone intends to kill another person.
Implied malice is when someone acts with depraved indifference to the life and safety of others.
In other words:
- The person purposely engaged in an act,
- The individual knew that the act could result in serious injury or death,
- They disregarded these consequences when they acted.
First- and Second-Degree Murder Laws
Because of how murder is defined, a person need not intend to kill another person to be charged with the offense. They need only to have decided to do something dangerous that could result in the death of another.
As such, California separates murder into two degrees. First-degree murder occurs when someone engages in a willful, deliberate, and premeditated design to kill. The individual thought and reflected on the act and possible consequences. Knowing that death would result, they made the decision to move forward.
A person commits second-degree murder when they take another person’s life without planning. Still, the alleged offender acted with malice aforethought. They intended to do something dangerous – not necessarily kill another person – knew that the act was likely to cause death or injury, and carried it out anyway.
The Punishments for First- and Second-Degree Murder
Although first- and second-degree murder are both serious offenses committed with malice aforethought and result in the loss of life, they are not punished the same. First-degree murder is considered a more serious crime than second-degree because it requires that the actor had planned to kill another human being.
A conviction for first-degree murder can result in imprisonment for 25 years to life.
With second-degree murder, the killing need not be premeditated or deliberate. It need only result from an intent to do or not do something dangerous to human life.
Second-degree murder is punishable by 15 years to life in prison.
Getting Help from a Lawyer
Whether a defendant is alleged to have acted with express or implied malice, the consequences of a murder conviction are substantial. Because of the adverse and long-lasting impacts, it’s vital that anyone accused is represented by a skilled and knowledgeable attorney. While these are serious charges, the defendant still has a right to defend themselves and pursue a favorable outcome. A criminal defense lawyer can be instrumental in helping to develop a legal strategy aimed at seeking just results.
At the Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C., we do not back down from a challenge and are ready to do what it takes to protect our client’s rights and futures.
To schedule a consultation with our Santa Rosa attorney, please call us at (707) 418-5352 or submit an online contact form.