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.

Criminal Defense Attorney and State Highway Patrol Officers Charged with Criminal Conspiracy

Last month, a California defense attorney and three state highway patrol officers were taken into custody for allegedly having connections with the murder of 26-year old Korey Kauffman in 2012. Kauffman’s body was found 18 months after he disappeared in Mariposa County. He was locally known for “scrapping” (stealing metal to sell). Prominent Modesto, CA criminal defense attorney Frank Carson was the suspected ringleader in an alleged conspiracy. Carson has been described as a “vengeful property owner trying to send a message to people allegedly stealing scrap metal and antiques from his property in Turlock.” On the night of Korey Kauffman’s disappearance, he was heading to steal irrigation pipes from Frank Carson’s property.

“The whole scrapper life, I didn’t approve of it,” Korey Kauffman’s father said of his late son. “You know how fathers are with their sons; we tend to be harder on them. But he chose his own path. He was a good kid with a good heart and he didn’t deserve what he got.”

Nine people were named and arrested in connection with the conspiracy, including Frank Carson, his wife, two business owners in Turlock, and three highway patrol officers. Carson faces potential charges of murder, criminal conspiracy, false imprisonment, solicitation, and lying in wait, which could qualify Carson for the death penalty. Authorities believe that Kauffman’s murder took place on March 30, 2012 in the Turlock area. They believe his body was then hidden in Mariposa County where it was discovered by hunters in August 2013.

The arrest warrant detailing probable cause to arrest Frank Carson described him as an easily angered person, without respect for authority and who hoped “to send a message to thieves targeting his belongings.” Carson had previously accused Korey Kauffman of stealing from his property in Turlock and had previously complained to authorities about Kauffman.

Walter Wells, Scott McFarlane, and Eduardo Quintanar Jr., all California Highway Patrol officers, also face charges connected to this conspiracy. Wells faces charges of murder, conspiracy, and false imprisonment. McFarlane and Quintanar Jr. face potential charges of criminal conspiracy and being an accessory. Wells’ seven years of employment as a highway patrol officer ended in June due to conduct unrelated to these charges. McFarlane and Quintanar Jr. were placed on administrative leave as a result of this investigation. The arrest documents conclude that Korey Kauffman’s body was dumped into the woods by a police car. “I am here saddened by this news. The California Highway Patrol is a very proud organization that values integrity,” Commissioner Joe Farrow said. “To hear news like this is devastating.” Farrow remarked that news of officers’ alleged involvement in a criminal conspiracy has a negative effect on all law enforcement agencies and “rips at the soul of an organization.”

Contact the Leslie Legal Group

If you or a loved one have been treated unfairly by the San Diego Police Department, it is essential that you retain an experienced attorney as soon as possible. The Leslie Legal Group has extensive experience helping clients. Contact us today for a free consultation.