If you face murder charges in California, there are options the prosecutor has when chagrining you. You may face first- or second-degree murder.
They are distinguished under the law. California Legislative Information explains the penalties can be similar but to prove the case, the prosecutor has to meet different elements. Knowing the elements for each charge will enable you to craft your defense.
First-degree murder requires planning and intended malice. It includes using destructive devices you know will kill, including explosives and armor-penetrating bullets. It also involves killing someone when committing another crime, such as carjacking, rape, arson, kidnapping, or burglary. Also, drive-by shootings fall under this charge.
To prove first-degree murder, the most important element is to show you intended to do it and premeditated it. This does not require showing that you had an elaborate plan or even thought out the murder prior to the time it happened. It simply requires showing that you knew your actions would kill the person and still carry them out.
All other types of homicide that do not meet the requirements for first-degree murder are second-degree murder. The only element is causing the death of another person and knowing that your actions could lead to the death of another person. It does not include accidental deaths, which would fall under another category of charges.
When defending against charges, it helps to know which degree you face. Obviously, defending against second-degree murder is a bit more difficult than defending against first-degree murder since the requirements to prove first-degree murder are more elaborate.