Bringing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in the Wake of a Murder in California

Losing a loved one to murder is perhaps the most difficult thing one can be forced to go through in life. The future transforms from clear and bright to dark and unknowable when a loved one is taken. Shock, grief, anguish, anger, sense of loss – these emotions come first. At some point, whether early on or with the passage of time, there emerges a deep need for justice. Under California law, there are two avenues for seeking justice, criminal and civil. The criminal justice system punishes wrongdoers for unlawful acts. The civil justice system affords victims and survivors the opportunity to seek justice from wrongdoers in the form of financial compensation.  The purpose of this article is to familiarize victims and survivors with broad strokes of how justice is dispensed in each system. If you have lost a loved one to murder, contact an experienced California attorney about filing a wrongful death lawsuit.

The State Prosecutes Murder in California

In California, the state itself prosecutes individuals charged with murder. There is no need to independently hire an attorney to prosecute murder in the criminal justice system. The state has criminalized murder and works aggressively to convict and punish individuals guilty of this most heinous crime. To convict, the state must prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Murder is defined as the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. A killing is unlawful when it is not justified – by self-defense, for example. A killing is committed with malice aforethought when it is done with one of four types of specific intent:

  • Intent to kill
  • Intent to inflict serious bodily harm
  • Reckless disregard of an unjustifiably high risk to human life
  • Felony murder rule (a killing that occurs during the commission of an inherently dangerous felony.)  

If the state proves beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of any one of these four types of intent in conjunction with unlawful killing of a human being, a conviction for murder is proper.

An Attorney Litigates a Wrongful Death Claim in California’s Civil Justice System

While the state prosecutes murder in the criminal justice system, it is an attorney who litigates a wrongful death claim in California’s civil justice system. While conviction in a criminal court will send a murderer to prison for many years, it will not result in financial restitution to survivors. To seek compensation for the lost future income a loved one was to provide, in addition to medical bills, funeral expenses, loss of love and affection, and other losses, you must file a wrongful death claim in California’s civil justice system. While the burden of proof in the criminal context is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” it is the lower “by a preponderance of evidence” standard in the civil context. If you have lost a loved one to murder, contact a dedicated and experienced California wrongful death attorney.