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Top Defenses to a California Murder Charge

January 7, 2020

The specific defense will depend on the facts of the case.

Top Defenses to a California Murder Charge

Murder is an incredibly serious criminal offense. If you have been charged with any degree of murder in California, you may be facing decades in prison — or even the death penalty. In these situations, it is critical to work with an experienced homicide attorney in Fresno, CA who understands how to successfully defend clients who have been accused of this crime.

There are many possible defenses to a murder charge based on the facts of a case. In some situations, a lawyer may be able to have the case dismissed entirely based on police misconduct. In other cases, your homicide attorney in Fresno, CA can present any one of these top defenses to a California murder charge.


Accident is a valid legal defense to a charge of murder. It can be used whenever a defendant in a murder case: (1) had no intent to do harm; (2) was not acting negligently; and (3) was otherwise engaged in lawful activity at the time of the killing. For example, a person put poisonous liquid in an unmarked bottle, then stepped away to take a call. If another person found the bottle and tasted the contents, resulting in their death, the first person could argue that their death was an accident — because their only intent was to put the poison in a bottle so that it could be disposed of properly.

Self-Defense or Defense of Others

This defense can be used whenever you are acting to protect yourself or someone else from danger. Under California law, you are permitted to use deadly force and take whatever measures are necessary if you reasonably believe that you or someone else are in imminent danger of (1) being killed; (2) suffering great bodily injury; or (3) being the victim of a forcible or atrocious crime, such as rape. The classic example of self-defense arises when a person is being abused by their spouse and fears that they may be killed or suffer great bodily harm. If the abused person kills their spouse, they may be able to use this defense.


In California, a person can plead not guilty by reason of insanity to a murder charge. Insanity defenses are governed by the M’Naughten test, which requires a defendant to prove that they only killed a person because (1) they didn’t understand the nature of their act; OR (2) they could not distinguish between right or wrong. A person with schizophrenia who heard voices telling them to kill others may be able to use this defense.

Mistaken Identification

Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable, yet is often the basis for convictions in criminal cases — including murder. A skilled homicide attorney in Fresno, CA can argue that a witness was mistaken as to the identity of the murderer. This can be done in a number of ways, such as demonstrating that the alleged murderer was somewhere else at the time of the crime, or challenging the use of line-ups or photo arrays that served as the basis for an identification.

At the Chambers Law Firm, we thoroughly investigate each case in order to present the strongest possible defense, which may be based on the facts of the case, California law, or a combination or both. If you have been charged with murder, we can help. Contact our firm today at 855-397-0210 or dchambers@clfca.com to schedule a free initial consultation.

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