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Special Circumstances

Under California's current law, a convicted murderer is eligible for the death penalty or life without possibility of parole under any of the following "special circumstances":

  1. Murder committed intentionally and for financial gain;

  2. Murder where the defendant was previously convicted of first- or second-degree murder;

  3. Multiple murders;

  4. Murder with a hidden destructive device;

  5. Murder committed in an attempt to evade arrest or escape from custody;

  6. Murder through the mails with a destructive device;

  7. Murder of an on-duty peace officer;

  8. Murder of an on-duty federal agent;

  9. Murder of an on-duty fireman;

  10. Murder of a witness to a crime to prevent their testimony in a criminal proceeding;

  11. Retaliatory murder of a prosecutor;

  12. Retaliatory murder of a judge;

  13. Retaliatory murder of an elected official;

  14. Murder that is especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel1;

  15. Murder committed by someone lying in wait;

  16. Murder committed because of race, color, religion, nationality, or country of origin;

  17. Murder during or directly after the commission of robbery, rape, burglary, kidnapping, arson, and other designated felonies;

  18. Murder involving torture;

  19. Murder by poison.


AMA Commentary

Under California's current law, once a jury finds a defendant guilty of murder under any of these special circumstances, there are only two sentences that can be considered during the penalty phase: a death sentence or life without the possibility of parole.

1 Ruled unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court in People v. Supreme Court (Engert), 31 Cal 3d 797, 1982.