A criminal conviction of attempted murder attracts huge fines and lengthy imprisonment terms. If you are facing charges of attempted murder, it would be best to seek professional legal representation to avoid these negative consequences.
This article will explain California laws on attempted murder comprehensively. In this article, we will discuss what the prosecutor must prove for you to be convicted and also highlight the penalties for attempted murder. We will also discuss the best defense strategies for attempted murder and other possible crimes that can be charged alongside the criminal offense of attempted murder.
If, after reading this article, you will still have more questions about the criminal offense of attempted murder, we invite you to reach out to us at Koenig Law Office for a free consultation. We have a team of highly experienced criminal defense attorneys who can help you build a robust defense strategy. We are dedicated to helping defendants facing criminal charges in Bakersfield get the most favorable outcome.
What is Attempted Murder?
California’s primary law on attempted murder is PC 664/187(a). Simply put, attempted murder is trying to kill another person without success.
You will be charged with this offense if law enforcement believes you tried to kill someone else but failed. Unlike murder cases where the victim is already dead, in attempted murder criminal lawsuits, the victim is still alive.
What the Prosecutor Must Prove for you to be Convicted of Attempted Murder
In California criminal cases, the burden of proof is on the prosecution. This means the prosecution has the legal obligation to demonstrate to the judge or jury that you are guilty. The standard of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that the prosecution must provide sufficient evidence showing you committed the offense, and the judge or jury should have no doubts whatsoever as to your guilt. This is an extremely high standard, and most prosecutors usually cannot reach it.
To be convicted of attempted murder, there are certain elements that the prosecutor must prove to the standard of beyond reasonable doubt. These elements include:
- You had an intention to kill another person
- You took a direct step to further your intention to kill
Below, we discuss each of these elements comprehensively:
You had an Intention to Kill Another Person
The prosecutor must prove that you had an intention to kill another person. This element is commonly referred to as ‘malice aforethought.’
Though this element seems straightforward, prosecutors find it difficult to prove. The prosecutor must illustrate to the judge or jury that your main goal was to kill the person and not simply to injure him/her.
To prove this element, most prosecutors rely on the degree and extent of the injuries suffered by the victim. Courts in California have ruled that upper body injuries, such as injuries on the head and chest, more clearly show an intention to kill compared to lower body injuries.
In some cases, victims of attempted murder do not sustain any injuries. In such cases, to prove there was malice aforethought, prosecutors rely on the acts performed by the defendant in his/her attempts to kill the victim. For instance, the prosecutor might show the judge or jury you spiked the victim's drink with a highly poisonous substance.
It will be easy for the prosecutor to prove you had an intention to kill if you shot into a group of people. In such cases, the prosecutor need not prove you had a specific target. You will be convicted as long as the prosecutor demonstrates to the judge or jury that you fired a gun toward a particular group of people.
You Took a Direct Step to Further your Intention to Kill
The prosecutor must illustrate to the judge or jury the step you took to further your intention to kill the victim. He/she must provide evidence showing how you attempted to kill the victim.
What you did in your attempts to kill the victim must be a direct step, not just a plan. The prosecutor must show that pursuant to your actions; the victim would have died had no outside interference occurred. For instance, the prosecutor might tell the judge or jury that you:
- Used a knife to stab someone else
- Used a gun to shoot another person
- Spiked someone else's drink with a highly poisonous drug
- Hired an assassin and instructed him/her to kill another person
If you had simply loaded a gun, bought a knife, or even just googled 'hitman for hire,' you will be acquitted. California law does not consider these actions as direct steps toward killing another person.
Note that the prosecutor does not need to prove you had any form of physical contact with the victim. You will be convicted as long as the prosecutor shows you took a direct step towards murdering the victim.
The Penalties for Attempted Murder
In California, attempted murder is categorized as a felony. Typically, the penalties for attempted murder are half what you would receive had you murdered the victim.
California courts categorize the criminal offense of attempted murder into two:
- First-degree attempted murder
- Second-degree attempted murder
First-degree attempted murder has harsher penalties than second-degree attempted murder. You will be convicted of first-degree attempted murder if there is evidence showing you acted deliberately and willfully and you had premeditated to kill the victim. The penalty for first-degree attempted murder is life imprisonment.
California courts classify any other attempted murder that does not qualify as first-degree attempted murder as second-degree attempted murder. The penalty for second-degree attempted murder is a state prison sentence of five, seven, or nine years.
Besides imprisonment terms, the judge may also order you to restitute the victim. The judge may also order you to pay a fine of up to $10,000.
Can a Conviction for Attempted Murder Make You Lose your Gun Rights?
According to California Penal Code 29800, convicted felons do not have the right to own or possess firearms. Remember, attempted murder is categorized as a felony.
This means that if you have been convicted of attempted murder, you will automatically lose your gun rights. You will be prohibited from acquiring, owning, or possessing a firearm.
Also, you will receive a sentencing enhancement if you were armed with a firearm when committing the crime. This is as per California’s ‘10-20-life rule’ laid out in PC 12022.53. The judge will impose an additional imprisonment sentence of:
- ten years if you used the firearm
- 20 years if you fired the gun
- 25 years to life if you caused serious bodily injury to the victim while using the gun
Immigration Consequences for Attempted Murder
If you are a non-citizen and have been convicted of attempted murder, you may face negative immigration consequences. This is because the criminal offense of attempted murder is deemed to be an aggravated felony.
You may become marked as 'inadmissible,' or you may get deported. You will need help from a highly experienced criminal defense attorney to avoid these negative immigration consequences.
Legal Defenses to Attempted Murder
You can use various legal defenses to fight criminal charges for attempted murder, such as:
- Lack of intent to kill
- No direct step
- Mistaken identity
- False accusations
Below, we discuss each of these defenses briefly:
Lack of Intent to Kill
Remember, one of the elements that the prosecutor must prove for you to be convicted of murder is that you had a specific intent. You will be acquitted if you can prove you had no such specific intent.
For instance, you can show the court you only wanted to scare or maim the victim. Your charges will be dismissed if the judge or jury doubts you intended to kill the victim.
No Direct Step
Remember also, the prosecutor is required to show you took a direct step towards killing the victim. If there is no such direct step, you will be acquitted.
The prosecutor must show you had a plan in motion to kill the victim. The prosecutor must also demonstrate that you would have succeeded in this plan had not some form of outside interference occurred. You will be acquitted if the prosecutor cannot prove beyond reasonable doubt that you executed a direct step.
Law enforcement could have mistaken you for someone else and framed you for attempted murder. For instance, you may have resembled the actual criminal or used a car similar to the one used by the real criminal. In such cases, you can use the defense of mistaken identity to fight your charges.
To succeed with this defense, you must portray the possibility of someone else, whom you could be mistaken for, having attempted to kill the victim. This may require you to conduct a thorough investigation of the crime scene. Your attorney can help you in this investigation and convince the judge or jury that you are just a victim of misidentification.
Self-defense is one of the most common defenses to attempted murder charges in California. If you can prove that the victim posed an imminent danger of possible death to you or your loved one, your charges will be dismissed.
For example, you can explain to the judge or jury that the victim wanted to stab you with a knife, and you had to retaliate. You will be acquitted if you prove that the victim intended to kill you and only retaliated in self-defense.
You can rely on medical records, eyewitness accounts, and surveillance videos to show you acted in self-defense. Your attorney can help you adduce this evidence before the court.
You can use this defense in any criminal lawsuit if you can prove that the victim is falsely accusing you. To use this defense, you must explain to the judge or jury why you believe the victim has an ulterior motive to accuse you of attempted murder falsely.
Your lawyer can help you use this defense as part of your defense strategy. For instance, he/she may challenge the credibility of the victim's testimony or adduce evidence showing that his/her character is of ill-repute.
Attempted Murder and Related Offenses
The following offenses can be charged alongside or as an alternative to criminal charges for attempted murder:
- Shooting at an inhabited dwelling or occupied car
- Drive-by shooting
- Attempted voluntary manslaughter
- Domestic violence offenses
- Attempted aiding a suicide
- Solicitation of a crime
- Aggravated battery
Here is a brief discussion of each of these offenses:
Shooting at an Inhabited Dwelling or Occupied Car
You will be charged with this criminal offense if you shoot at an inhabited residential or commercial building or occupied motor vehicle or aircraft. In such a situation, you will face charges for this criminal offense alongside or as an alternative to attempted murder charges.
This offense is categorized as a felony. Its punishment is a state prison sentence of up to seven years.
California Penal Code 26100 criminalizes drive-by shootings. You will face charges for this offense, in addition to or as an alternative to attempted murder charges, if you shoot someone else from a motor vehicle.
This offense is categorized as a felony. Its punishment is a state prison sentence of up to seven years.
Besides criminal charges for attempted murder, you can face alternative or additional charges for torture. California Penal Code 206 defines the criminal offense of torture as the act of inflicting severe bodily injury on another person to cause extreme suffering or pain with the aim of persuasion, revenge, or any other sadistic purpose.
Because there is a fine line between injury to cause extreme pain and suffering and intent to kill, attempted murder suspects may face additional or alternative charges for torture. This offense is categorized as a felony. Its punishment is life imprisonment.
Attempted Voluntary Manslaughter
If you kill someone else 'in the heat of passion,' you will be charged with voluntary manslaughter. Suppose there is evidence that you did not premeditate to kill the victim and only attempted to do so in the heat of passion. In that case, the prosecutor may reduce your attempted murder charges to attempted voluntary manslaughter.
Attempted voluntary manslaughter is categorized as a felony but has less severe penalties than attempted murder. Its punishment is an imprisonment term of a maximum of five and a half years.
Domestic Violence Offenses
If the alleged victim was your spouse or someone you had an intimate relationship with, you might face additional charges for domestic violence offenses. These offenses may include domestic battery, aggravated trespass, and criminal threats.
Most domestic violence offenses attract harsh penalties, such as huge fines and lengthy imprisonment terms. Therefore, you will need a highly experienced criminal defense attorney to help you fight your charges if the alleged victim was your spouse or significant other.
Attempted Aiding a Suicide
According to California Penal Code 401, it is a criminal offense to assist someone else to commit suicide. You will be charged with this offense if evidence shows that you helped or encouraged another person to kill himself/herself and the suicide did not succeed.
Attempted aiding a suicide is categorized as a felony. Its penalty is a state prison sentence of 16 months, two or three years. The judge may also impose a fine of up to $10,000.
Solicitation of a Crime
According to California Penal Code 653f, it is a criminal offense to solicit someone else to commit a crime. If you hired a hitman to kill another person, you could face criminal charges for this offense, in addition to or as an alternative to charges for attempted murder.
This offense is categorized as a wobbler. The prosecutor can charge it as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the crime you solicited another person to commit. However, if you solicited a hitman to kill another person, you will be charged with this offense as a felony. Upon conviction, you may face an imprisonment sentence of up to four years, or the judge may order you to pay a fine of up to $10,000.
If you cause another person to sustain serious bodily injuries, you may be charged with the criminal offense of aggravated battery. This is as set forth in California Penal Code 243d.
The prosecutor can charge this offense as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the nature and extent of the injuries. Misdemeanor aggravated battery is punishable by a county jail term of up to one year. In contrast, felony aggravated battery is punishable by a state prison sentence of up to four years.
Find a Bakersfield Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If you or your loved one is facing criminal charges for attempted murder, we invite you to contact us at Koenig Law Office for professional legal help. We will help you build a robust defense strategy for the most favorable outcome.
Our attorneys have the technical know-how, experience, and skill to fight attempted murder charges. Call us today at 661-793-7222 for a free consultation.