According to California law, when a person kills another person or fetus with “malice aforethought,” they can be found guilty of murder. But what exactly does malice aforethought mean? 

In simple terms, malice aforethought is a mental state in which a person intends to kill someone else or commit an act that they know will endanger human life. 

There are two different types of malice aforethought that are considered sufficient in the context of a murder conviction: express malice and implied malice.

Express malice is present when someone has specific intention to kill another person.

Implied malice is present when someone intentionally and deliberately commits an act that he or she knows to be dangerous to others with conscious disregard for human life.

If a person illegally causes another person’s death without demonstrating the mental state of malice aforethought, they can’t be convicted of murder but may still be guilty of either voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. 

Defense strategies to disprove malice aforethought 

Because malice aforethought is a necessary element of murder, a defense attorney by be able to help you have your charges reduced by using a strategy such as the ones described below:

  1. Self-defense – if a defendant kills someone in self-defense or in defense of another person, they may not be found guilty of possessing malice aforethought, and therefore may not be found guilty of murder. In order to prove that he or she acted in self-defense, a defendant must demonstrate that they or someone else was in imminent danger of being seriously injured, killed, or made to be the victim of a serious crime and that they used the appropriate amount of necessary force to prevent it.
  2. Death was caused by accident or reckless behavior – if another person dies as the result of an accident on the part of the defendant, it’s possible to dispute that express or implied malice led to the death. Additionally, reckless indifference, or the disregard for other people’s safety without disregard for the value of human life, may not be considered malice aforethought.
  3. Insanity – If a defendant is proven to have been legally insane during the time of the alleged killing, she or she is believed not to have possessed the intent to kill. According to California law, a defendant may be deemed insane if he or she was unable to distinguish between right and wrong and/or did not understand the life-endangering or homicidal nature of the act that was committed. Often, this means that severe mental illness is present. It is important to note that if a defendant is found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity, he or she will likely be required to be committed to a state hospital for the treatment of mental illness.

If you or a loved one are facing murder charges, the most important thing you can do is contact a criminal defense attorney right away. A qualified lawyer will examine the facts of your case to determine the best possible defensive strategy. As a California criminal defense attorney with over 30 years of experience, I have successfully represented clients facing even some of the most serious charges. Call the law offices of Robert M. Helfend today to schedule your free consultation – 800-834-6434.