Attempted murder is a serious crime in California that can lead to lengthy prison sentences and hefty fines. Many defendants usually seek attempted murder charges as an alternative for murder, but they still carry severe penalties though slightly lesser than those in a murder conviction. This makes it extremely crucial to seek the help of a professional attorney once you're charged with attempted murder. Contact our team at the Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law firm for your initial consultation.
Definition of Attempted Murder in California
California Penal Code 664 defines attempted murder as trying but failing to kill another person. Under this statute, two elements apply in this violent crime. This include:
- Taking a direct but ineffective step to kill another person
- Having the intention to kill
Please note, a fetus is regarded as a person under this statute. Here is a closer view of these two elements that will help you understand this statute better.
A Direct Step
You must take a direct attempt to kill someone to be charged with attempted murder. This means that there must be some tangible actions towards accomplishing the goal of killing someone, though it doesn't succeed.
A direct step should be more than buying a weapon, plotting to murder someone, or learning about the location of your target victim. These are merely planning but not taking a direct step towards your intended action.
A direct step would involve any action without outside forces that can kill another person. For instance, shooting a gun in the direction of the intended victim, paying a killer, or engaging in an action that can lead to the death of the intended victim counts as attempted murder. Other examples of direct actions that can lead to the death of a person include stabbing someone in the chest. Here is an example that explains a "direct action to kill" much better.
John intends to kill Andrew. He goes ahead and buys a pistol, writes down how he will kill Andrew, including how he will dispose of his body after killing him. Fortunately, the police apprehend him after learning about his intentions from a friend.
In this situation, John is innocent of attempted murder since he didn't take any direct action or step towards his intention.
Now let's look at the following scenario that shows a direct intention to kill.
John sneaks into Andrew's apartment, intending to kill him using the pistol that he had bought. However, he decides to abandon his mission but is apprehended by the police before he sneaks out of Andrew's apartment.
In this situation, John would be guilty of attempted murder, even after abandoning the idea of killing Andrew. His sneaking into Andrew's apartment is a direct step towards his mission to kill him, making him guilty of attempted murder.
Intention to Kill
Prosecutors must prove that a defendant had the intention to kill in an attempted murder charge. The intention to maim or injure another person does not suffice as an element of this crime if there is no intention to kill.
The location of an injury is also crucial in determining whether a defendant intended to kill the alleged victim. Injuries on the upper body carry more weight in mediating a killing because most vital organs are located in this part of the body.
Injuries on the lower body can still indicate the intention to kill, but the prosecution must provide solid evidence to prove this.
There are no injuries involved in an attempted murder case in most cases. Therefore, the prosecution usually relies on circumstances to prove a defendant's intention to kill. Let's look at the following example for a better understanding of this element.
Police officers are after Charlie, following a robbery tip. Charlie suddenly stops about twenty feet from the officers, points a gun at them, and fires but misses. His gun jams before firing again, and the officers arrest him as he tries to unjam it.
In this scenario, Charlie doesn't injure the police. However, the act of shooting towards the officer suggests the intention to kill, making him guilty of attempted murder.
Please note, although prosecutors must prove the intention to kill another person, they can still prosecute you for attempted murder even when there's no specific target. Here is an example that explains this scenario much better.
Nick participates in a drive-by shooting with members of his street gang. They pull over at a particular spot where a rival gang is congregating, and he starts to shoot at the group. Nick is later arrested and convicted of attempted murder. He had no intention to shoot a specific person, but shooting at the gang members is sufficient to make his action an attempted murder.
Kill Zone Theory and How It Works in a California Attempted Murder Case
California laws recognize the kill zone theory when defining an attempted murder liability. Therefore, a defendant can be liable for attempted murder for anyone they may kill while attempting to kill a specific target. Here is an example to better your understanding.
Peter plants a bomb in a commercial plane intending to kill Paul. Since the bomb might end up killing everyone on board, even when it doesn't go off, the court will still prosecute Peter for attempted murder for every person on board under the kill zone theory.
Please note that defendants must not necessarily know about the kill zone to be convicted under the kill zone theory. Look at the following example for a clear view about this perspective:
The court convicted Joseph of 11 counts of attempted murder for shooting at multiple residents in a drive-by shooting spree. However, he had the intention of killing two specific individuals, not the 11 occupants. He gets the 11 counts since the shooting was in a killing zone. While convicting him, the court stated:
In this situation, Joseph manifested a deliberate intention to kill other people when he fired a high-powered wall-piercing gun at an inhabited dwelling. Although he couldn't see all the victims, this doesn't negate his intention to express malice or kill the residents. However, the random shooting of the 11 occupants still makes him guilty of attempted murder under the kill zone theory.
Penalties for Attempted Murder in California
Attempted murder is a felony in California. Generally, the penalty for attempted murder is half the punishment for murder. Therefore, it carries two degrees similar to murder charges. These punishments are as follows:
Penalties for First-Degree Attempted Murder
First-degree attempted murder refers to attempting to kill another person willfully, deliberately, and with the premeditation of the action. It carries the following sentences:
- Life imprisonment in the State prison
- The possibility of release on parole
Please note, defendants must serve a mandatory 15 years if the victim of the attempted murder was an on-duty firefighter, law enforcement officer, or a protected person.
Penalties for Second-Degree Attempted Murder
Second-degree attempted murder refers to any form of attempted murder that isn't a first-degree murder. Therefore, it refers to any form of attempted murder that wasn't premeditated or deliberate. Second-degree attempted murder is punishable by imprisonment for 5, 7, or 9 years.
Additional Penalties for Attempted Murder in California
A conviction for both first or second-degree murder also has the following punishment:
- Victim restitution
- A fine of up to $10,000
- Loss of your gun rights since this crime makes you a felon
California's Three Strike Law
Attempted murder falls under violent felony crimes in California. This means that a defendant can be convicted under California's Three strike law. Under this law, a conviction counts as a strike on your criminal record. A second strike carries a double sentence, while a third strike carries 25 years to a life sentence in prison.
Therefore, you should expect a second conviction for second-degree attempted murder that carries ten, seven, or 18 years in prison.
Criminal Street Gang Enhancement
If your attempt to murder another person is gang-related, you will face additional sentences. A gang-street enhancement adds fifteen years to life imprisonment that should run consecutively to your attempted murder sentence.
10-20-Life Use of a Gun and You're Done
Attempted murder with a gun also carries enhanced penalties under the 10-20-life use of a gun, and you're done. Under this rule, you can face an additional sentence that includes:
- Ten years of imprisonment for using a gun
- 20 years of imprisonment for firing the gun
- 25 years to life for killing another person or causing great bodily injury on another person by firing a gun
Non-citizens convicted of attempted murder can face deportation and be marked inadmissible into the United States since it is an aggravated felony.
Legal Defense Strategies for Attempted Murder Charges in California
Your attorney should adapt relevant legal defense strategies to help you dismiss or reduce your attempted murder charges. The main goal of using legal defense strategies is to disapprove of the crime presented by the prosecution. Here are a few defense strategies that your attorney can use:
Lack of the Intention to Kill
As stated earlier, prosecutors must prove that you deliberately intended to kill somebody to prosecute you for attempted murder. Your attorney can disapprove of this element by verifying that you had no intention to kill, even after performing a specific action perceived as an attempt to kill. For instance, they can argue that you only intended to injure or scare the alleged victim through your action rather than kill them.
In this case, your attorney can ask the court to reduce your charges to mayhem, simple assault, or assault with a deadly weapon since this kind of defense doesn't entirely acquit you of the attempted murder charges.
Lack of a Direct Step to Kill the Alleged Victim
An attempted murder conviction requires the defendant to take direct action towards killing the alleged victim. However, mere planning or taking steps towards your intention doesn't warrant a conviction for attempted murder. For instance, buying a gun from a gun store or making arrangements for how you will dispose of your target's body doesn't count as attempted murder.
Therefore, you cannot be charged with attempted murder if you didn't take a direct step towards your intention. You are also innocent of these charges if you voluntarily abandoned your plan.
Please note that taking a direct step and abandoning the plan after that can only reduce your charges to a crime that carries lesser penalties.
Wrongful Accusation or Arrest
Many people are arrested for attempted murder through mistaken identity, flawed eye witness identification, and when they're suspected of having ties with a street gang. Mistaken identity occurs when a defendant has a similar physical description to the actual perpetrator. You can also be wrongfully arrested if you were at the wrong place, especially in a place that's notorious for street gangs.
If your arrest is based on these circumstances, your attorney should employ practical approaches to prove your innocence. This will most probably help you dismiss your charges.
Claim that Your Actions were in Self-Defense
In California, it's OK to use reasonable force to defend yourself if you believe that you are about to suffer imminent bodily harm. However, the force used in self-defense must be equal to the force you receive. Therefore, using a deadly force to counter a deadly force doesn't mean that you were attempting to kill the other person. If you and your attorney can prove this, the court will most likely acquit you of the charges. Here is an example that will help you understand how self-defense can work as a legal defense strategy to your allegations:
James is walking down the street. Suddenly, a masked man appears and holds a knife to her neck. As a black-belt Karate martial artist, he takes down the masked man, grabs the knife, stabs him, and kills the masked man.
In this situation, James reasonably believed that he was in immediate danger, primarily due to the knife that the robber was holding to his neck. His actions were equal to the use of deadly weapons against him, making this a self-defense.
Police misconduct can also be an effective legal defense strategy. However, it doesn't directly help dismiss or reduce your charges. It only helps in raising doubts about part of the evidence used to prosecute you. Police misconduct refers to any illegal or inappropriate action that an officer undertakes and involves violating their code and conduct or California arrest rules. Some of the instances that describe police misconduct include:
- Use of excessive force
- Coercive interrogation
- Witness tampering
- Racial profiling
Police misconduct can help you eliminate crucial evidence from your case, which can make the court dismiss or reduce your charges. The prosecution will most probably decide to drop your case if there's not enough evidence that would help them prove their elements of crimes beyond a reasonable doubt.
Illegal Search and Seizure
Under the United States Fifth Amendment, law enforcement officers should search another person's property when they reasonably believe that a defendant has committed a crime. They should also seek a search warrant from a local judge to conduct the search or seizure.
However, if law enforcement officers responsible for your arrest conduct a search or seizure on your property without a warrant, any evidence collected against you will be unacceptable in court. This might not help you entirely dismiss your charges but might have the prosecution reduce your allegations.
Crimes Related to Attempted Murder in California
Several crimes relate to attempted murder. These crimes can either be charged along with or replaced with attempted murder. In most cases, attorneys tend to pursue these crimes if they carry less severe penalties thanthan attempted murder when there are slim chances of dismissing your charges. Let's take a closer look at them.
California Penal Code 246: Shooting at an Occupied Vehicle or Dwelling
Under California Penal Code 246, it's illegal to discharge a firearm at an occupied building, dwelling, motor vehicle, or aircraft. You can also be charged with this crime if you shoot at an apartment, RV, camper, or any house, even when there's no one occupying the property.
Shooting at an occupied building or car is a felony with the following penalties:
- Custody in county jail for six months to one year
- Imprisonment for three, five, or seven years
- A maximum fine of $10,000
California Penal Code 26100: Drive-by Shooting
Penal Code 26100 makes it a crime to willfully and maliciously discharge a gun from your vehicle. It also makes it a crime to allow another person to willfully and maliciously discharge a gun from your vehicle.
Drive-by shooting can be charged as a misdemeanor, straight felony, or a wobbler. Drive-by shooting becomes a misdemeanor if you allow another person to bring a gun into your vehicle. A misdemeanor charge carries a fine of up to $1,000 and custody in county jail for six months.
This crime becomes a wobbler if a person fires a firearm from your vehicle or allows a passenger to shoot from your vehicle. A misdemeanor carries up to one year of custody in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
When charged as a felony, you will face a maximum of three years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000. A straight felony is punishable by a maximum of seven years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.
Penal Code 206: Torture
California Penal Code 206 defines torture as the infliction of significant bodily injuries on a victim to cause extreme suffering or pain for sadistic aim, persuasion, or revenge.
Torture is a felony in California punishable by life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. Torture carries a severe sentence due to the extreme pain experienced by a victim but not because of the defendant's intent to inflict pain or sadistic purposes.
Penal Code 192(a): Voluntary Manslaughter
California Penal Code 192(a) defines voluntary manslaughter as an unlawful killing of another person during a sudden quarrel, based on an unreasonable belief that you needed to defend yourself.
Voluntary manslaughter is a felony in California punishable by three, six, or eleven years in prison. A conviction can also lead to:
- Addition of a strike to your criminal record under California's three-strike law
- A fine of up to $10,000
- Loss of your right to own or possess a firearm
- Counseling services
- Community service
Domestic violence refers to inflicting bodily injury or threatening an intimate partner. Domestic violence crimes are covered under two main statutes: California Penal Code 243(e)(1): Domestic battery and California Penal Code 273.5: Inflicting corporal injuries on an intimate partner.
Domestic violence carries several penalties in California, which include:
- Jail time
- Mandatory participation in domestic violence classes
- Payment of restitution
- Mandatory observation of a protective order
- Loss of your custody rights
- A permanent criminal record
- Loss of your gun rights
California Penal Code 401: attempted or Aiding a Suicide
California Penal Code 401 makes it a crime to help or encourage another person to commit suicide. Aiding a suicide is a felony with the following penalties:
- A maximum of three years in state prison
- A maximum fine of $10,000
Attempted or aiding a suicide can be charged in place of attempted murder if you supply a gun to a friend to shoot himself, and that person doesn't die.
California Penal Code 653(f): Soliciting Another Person to Commit a Crime
California Penal Code 653(f) makes it a crime to appoint another person to commit a crime such as murder. Soliciting refers to communicating a request to another person to commit a crime to see that crime being committed.
Solicitation of murder is a felony punishable by three, six, or nine years of imprisonment. It also carries a maximum fine of $10,000.
California Penal Code 243(d): Aggravated Battery
Penal Code 243(d) defines aggravated battery as any crime that causes serious bodily injury to another person. It involves any form of offensive touching or striking of another person, causing that person to suffer a severe injury.
An aggravated battery is a wobbler. A misdemeanor battery is punishable by a maximum of one year in county jail. A felony battery is punishable by a maximum of four years in jail.
Contact a Riverside Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
The penalties for attempted murder can be severe following a conviction. It's always crucial to seek professional legal help to reduce or dismiss the charges against you. At the Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we have the skills and experience needed to help secure your freedom. Our attorneys will investigate your case and seek the best possible outcomes. Contact us at 951-946-6366 and learn how we will help you.