Attempted murder, charged under Penal Code Section 664, is the failed attempt to commit murder. A conviction for this offense goes through if the prosecutor is able to prove that the defendant was committed to the act and took a direct step but was unsuccessful. For instance, if one plans to shoot someone but misses and accidentally kills or injures another person, they can still be charged with attempted murder. If you are under investigation for the violent crime of attempted murder, you face accusations that bring a heavy burden.
Attempted murder is not just a felony, it’s a violent felony. The charges are taken with equal weight as murder charges and this implies that you could face life imprisonment. The consequences of a conviction for attempted murder can be life-altering. It’s, therefore, imperative to immediately speak to a skilled attempted murder attorney right away. During this period, don’t say anything to police detectives since your statements could be used to build a case against you. At Pasadena Criminal Attorney, attempted murder lawyers are highly experienced in handling complex and difficult criminal defense cases. Contact us today online or call 626-689-2277 to receive expert legal advice about your case. Our defense team will fight tirelessly for your rights and employ every possible defense strategy to ensure a successful outcome of the case.
Elements of Attempted Murder in California
A conviction for attempted murder can only occur if the prosecution is able to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that you committed an act that was aimed at killing someone but didn’t result in their death. Also, the prosecution is required to prove malice aforethought, which means proving that you had you deliberately intended to kill someone. Though these elements seem upfront and straightforward, California law on attempted murder is technical and complex. You can expect that the prosecution will use a strong approach to prove that you are guilty. This is why it’s critical to contact a Los Angeles defense attorney immediately after your arrest.
Let’s take a closer look at the elements:
- You specifically ‘intended’ to kill
This is the element that prosecutors typically have the most difficulty in when it comes to California attempted murder. Intent, in this case, requires that the defendant meant to kill the targeted victim. It’s not enough that you intend to scare or severely injure another person in order to meet the standard, you must actually intend to kill. Intent to kill can be proven circumstantially. For instance, the vital organs of a human body are in the upper half and if that is where the injuries were inflicted, that can be considered as circumstantial evidence of intent to kill. On the contrary, if the injuries were mainly on the lower half of the body, that may suggest that you only intended to cause injury but not to kill. However, in the absence of injury, the prosecutor may have difficulty in proving that you intended to kill.
- You intended to kill ‘’a person’’
The intent to kill a person is different from the intent to kill a specific person. You will likely be found guilty if you intended to kill “a person or fetus”. Although your actions may have been directed to a primary target, the prosecutor will not be required to identify one. For example, George walks into a classroom and fires his gun at the students. The incident leaves some students injured but nobody dies. Even though George did not target a specific individual, he can still be charged with attempted murder. It’s imperative to note that in this rule, there need not be a specific target. This is different from the “kill zone” theory. In the kill zone theory, there is a specific target but in the event, other individuals are affected. This theory of attempted murder implies that the defendant will be held liable for anyone they simultaneously intend to kill while attempting to kill a specific person. To be convicted under the “kill zone” rule, however, there’s no requirement for you to have known that there were other individuals in the zone as long as you are the one who created the zone. For instance, if George planted a bomb in the classroom with the intent of killing Mike but ten other students ended up being injured, he can be convicted of 10 counts of attempted murder.
- You took a deliberate step toward killing another person
Attempted murder requires premeditation and is more than mere planning, preparing, or arranging a murder. Planning, in this case, can be something such as finding out where the intended victim lives or will be at a particular time. Preparing can be in the form of buying a weapon. It could also be hiring someone to kill your target victim. A ‘direct step’ in this case is the next step of putting the actual plan into action, and in such a way that the murder of the intended victim would have been successful were it not for the interfere brought about by an outside factor. Your act will satisfy this element if it’s more than mere preparation.
For example, George intends to kill Mike. He writes down how he will execute the act and even buys the knife he is going to use to stab Mike to death. However, before George takes a concrete action to actualize his intent to kill, he is caught. This, therefore, implies that he did not go beyond mere preparation and is probably not guilty of attempted murder. Now imagine that George went to the extent of breaking into Mike’s home with the sharp knife but changes his mind and cancels the plan. In this case, he undertook a direct step toward the commission of the crime even though he canceled the plan. In this case, George can still be charged with attempted murder.
Penalties for Attempted Murder
The penalties for attempted murder are clearly outlined in Penal Code 664 PC. Attempted murder is a felony and is divided into two degrees: first and second-degree attempted murder. The punishments and penalties vary from one type to another. Generally speaking, the crime carries half of the sentence that the substantive crime would carry.
First-degree attempted murder
You could face first-degree attempted murder charges if your attempted murder was premeditated, deliberate, and willful. A conviction of first-degree attempted murder carries the following punishments:
- a life sentence in the California state prison with the possibility of parole
- a fine of up to $10,000
- a "strike" on your criminal record pursuant to California's three strikes law
- withdrawal of the right to acquire or own firearms
- victim restitution
Additionally, you face the same sentence with a mandatory minimum 15-year sentence if the victim of the first-degree attempted murder is a police officer, peace officer, firefighter and other protected person who was performing his/her duties.
Second-degree attempted murder
This is attempted murder that is not premeditated, deliberate, and willful. A conviction for second-degree attempted murder carries:
- a California State prison sentence of five, seven, or nine years.
- a maximum $10,000 fine
- the loss of the right to own, possess or acquire a firearm
- victim restitution
- a “strike” in accordance with California’s Three Strikes Law
At the time of sentencing, the court can impose a sentence enhancement in addition and consecutive to your underlying charge depending on the unique circumstances of your case.
- Association to a criminal street gang
Under Penal Code 186.22 PC, your sentencing may be enhanced if you are convicted of a felony offense that was committed in association with, or for the benefit of a criminal street gang. This could either be with the intent to promote or assist in the gang members’ criminal conduct. If the prosecution can prove that your crime was related to a gang and you are convicted of attempted murder, you could face 15-years-to-life in the state prison in addition to your sentence for the charge of attempted murder.
- Use of a gun
Your sentence can also be enhanced if you used a gun during the commission of an attempted murder pursuant to Penal Code 12022.53 PC. The penalties are:
- Use of a gun- add 10 years in prison
- Firing a gun- add 20 years in prison
- Firing a gun and causing great bodily injury or death- add 25 years to life in prison
Common Defenses to Attempted Murder
There are common legal defenses your experienced Pasadena criminal defense attorney could use on your behalf to a charge of attempted murder including (but not limited to):
- You did not intend to kill the victim
There is need for the prosecutor to prove that you deliberately intended to kill somebody. Your attorney can prove that you are not guilty of the offense if you did not specifically intend to kill the alleged victim. Instead, your attorney can argue that you only wanted to scare or injure the alleged victim. This will see the charges reduced to either mayhem, simple assault, or assault with a deadly weapon. If your attorney can prove that you had an alternative motive of committing a lesser crime other than murder, you should be acquitted of the attempted murder charge.
- You did not take the direct step to try to kill
A conviction for attempted murder requires more than intent; the prosecution must prove that you took a direct action toward the fulfillment of the intent. Wanting to kill someone, buying the weapons, and even making arrangements on how to dispose of the body once you complete the task is not necessarily a direct step. You aren’t guilty of attempted murder even if you are arrested before you accomplish your mission. Also, you don’t violate this law if you voluntarily abandon the plan. If you take a direct step but then you change your mind, you are guilty of attempted murder. Your criminal defense attorney may be able to negotiate with the prosecutor to have your charges reduced.
- Wrongful arrest or false accusation
Some of the common reasons for wrongful arrest for attempted murder include ties to a gang, mistaken identity, and flawed eyewitness identification. It could be that you were mistaken with the suspect due to similar physical descriptions or you could drive a similar car to that owned by the actual culprit. Being at the wrong place at the wrong time is also a situation that could put you in a situation of being accused of attempted murder. With the extensive experience of our attorneys, we will employ the most effective approach to interview witnesses and prove your innocence by ensuring that false allegations are brought to light.
- You acted in self-defense
Under California law, you have the right to use reasonable force to defend yourself or another individual if you have a reasonable belief that you are about to suffer imminent bodily harm. In this case, the force you use should be equal to the force you receive. Therefore, you are allowed to use deadly force to resist or counter deadly force even if you don't retreat first. This means that even though your conduct was criminal in nature, the law on self-defense will excuse you if you defended yourself against someone who was trying to kill you.
Other complete defenses to attempted murder include:
- Insanity defense- If you could not distinguish between a wrong and a right or did not understand the nature of the act.
- Police misconduct or entrapment- Applicable in cases where a police officer induces a person to commit a criminal offense, or police use false arrest, brutality, intimidation or racial profiling.
- Illegal search and seizure- The police gathered evidence during the search in an unconstitutional manner or used an improperly created search warrant, the evidence may be suppressed.
- Prosecutorial misconduct- Applicable in situations where the prosecutor tries to sway the jury to convict a defendant in an improper manner or impose harsher than appropriate punishment
Contact an Attempted Murder Attorney
If you retain us as your counsel, we'll investigate the facts of your case comprehensively to explore defenses that may be used to seek the best possible outcome on your behalf. As experienced Pasadena criminal defense attorney, we know the devastating impact that a criminal conviction can have on your personal and professional life. We'll do everything we need to, including hiring expert witnesses, investigators, and combining every piece of evidence.
We will do everything we need to, including working with our own investigators, hiring expert witnesses, and combing through every ounce of evidence. Contact our law firm at 626-689-2277 for your free, confidential consultation and learn how we fight for our own.