Attempting to take another person’s life is a severe crime in California. The offense is severely punished even if the other person did not die. A lot is put into consideration before a person is declared guilty of attempted murder. However, many people are still convicted of the offense even though their actions were accidental and deliberate.
At Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we understand that a person’s intentions could be misinterpreted to the extent of facing serious charges like attempted murder. If you are in Orange County, CA, and you feel that you are wrongly accused, get in touch with us. We could help you fight your charges and possibly have them dropped or reduced into a less-severe charge.
Legal Definition of California Attempted Murder
Attempted murder occurs when a person tries to kill another person but fails. In California, murder is a crime of moral turpitude, and so it attracts a hefty penalty for anyone convicted. Attempting to take the life of another human being’s life is also taken very seriously because the life of a human being could have been lost had the offender succeeded in their attempt.
The offense is covered under California Penal Code Section 664 or 187(a). Under this law, attempted murder is defined as an attempt to murder another person, whereby the perpetrator tales a direct step towards the offense’s accomplishment. Still, in the end, the victim does not die. The legal definition includes two facts of the offense, namely:
- A person (defendant) took a direct but ineffectual step(s) towards taking another person’s life.
- He/she intended, with malice aforethought, to take the life of the person.
Note that California law against attempted murder considers a fetus a human being. Therefore, trying to get rid of a fetus could see you facing charges for attempted murder.
To understand this offense more, let us examine each element in detail:
Taking Direct Step
From the definition above, attempted murder does not just occur when a person thinks or swears to kill another person. The offender must have taken a direct step to accomplish it. Direct action means that the offender did more than planning. He/she did something else to get their plan going. It also means that the other person could have lost his/her life if it was not for the interference caused by an external factor.
Taking a direct step towards killing another person could occur in more ways than one. It could be seen in what the offender did, for instance:
- Taking a knife and stabbing the victim several times
- Drawing a gun and shooting towards the victim
- Paying a murder-for-hire to kill the person
- Pushing the victim down a cliff
It could also be evident in the preparations the offender did for the murder, such as:
- Purchasing and/or sharpening a knife
- Searching the internet about such things as ‘How to hire a hitman.’
- Buying and/loading a firearm
Intent to Murder
California attempted murder requires that the offender had intentions to kill their victim before they acted. The court will require the prosecutor to prove the intent to kill. Note that if the accused only intended to injure their victim, he/she could not be guilty of attempted murder.
Proving a person’s intention is usually the trickiest part for prosecutors. It is hard to tell what a person’s intentions are. However, the court has its ways of proving a defendant’s intentions. It could be in the location of the victim’s injuries. A person that intends to kill another will aim at their upper body as opposed to their legs. It is because most human vital organs are located on their upper body. If the victim’s injuries were mainly on their lower body, the court could conclude that the defendant intended to injure the victim and not kill.
However, the presence of injuries on the victim’s upper body is not enough proof that the defendant was trying to kill them. The prosecutor will need to back his/her theory with other tell-tale signs to find the accused guilty.
In some cases of attempted murder, victims do not showcase any injuries at all. Therefore, injuries alone may not be enough proof to tell what the defendant’s intentions were.
Example: A gang stops at an abandoned house and starts shooting. Members of the gang are not aware of the presence of people in the place. It turns out that a couple was hanging out in the abandoned building at the shooting time. The couple calls the police, and the gang members are arrested. The couple then accuses the gang members of attempted murder.
The truth is that the gang members cannot be charged with attempted murder because they were unaware of the couple’s presence in the abandoned house. However, if the shooter saw the couple and aimed his/her gun at them before shooting, he/she could be guilty of attempted murder.
The Kill-zone Theory
The kill-zone theory for attempted murder responsibility is recognized in California. The theory means that a person who takes another person’s life while trying to kill another target will be held responsible for that murder.
For example, a person sets a house on fire, intending to kill a particular person. Unfortunately, other people in the house might also die in the inferno. The fire does not spread like the person intended, and so everyone in the house is rescued. The offender could be charged with attempted murder for all the house occupants and not just for the person he/she intended to kill in the fire.
If, in any case, one or more people, other than the targeted person, die in the fire, the offender will be held accountable for the murder of those, and the attempted murder of everyone else.
Note that for a person to be sentenced under the kill-zone theory, he/she does not have to know that there were other potential victims within the kill zone.
Penalties for Those Convicted of California Attempted Murder
As earlier mentioned, California attempted murder is as severe as other felonies such as murder and other violent crimes. Thus, it is also categorized as a felony offense. Similarly, it has two degrees, determined by the severity and circumstances of the offense.
First-degree attempted murder is the more severe of the two. A person can be found guilty of 1st-degree attempted murder if they acted deliberately, willfully, and prior meditation. The punishment an offender can get for this crime may include:
- Imprisonment for life in California prison
- Incarceration with a likelihood of parole- The parole board determines this
Suppose the victim was a protected person such as a police officer or a firefighter, and he/she was on duty during the commission of the offense. In that case, the defendant must serve a minimum sentence of 15 years in state prison.
Second-degree attempted murder, on the other hand, is any other similar offense that doesn’t satisfy the requirements of a first-degree conviction. If the offense was indeed an attempted murder, but there is no sufficient proof to show that it was premeditated, committed willfully, or deliberately, the penalties could be less severe. The kind of sentencing a person can get for a 2nd-degree attemped murder conviction is imprisonment for five, seven, or nine years. Again, defendants who are found guilty of trying to murder protected persons while on duty must serve a minimum of 15 years behind bars.
In addition to prison sentences, a conviction for California attempted murder comes with other penalties the offender must face for both 1st and 2nd-degree cases. They include:
- Payment of restitution to the victim or his/her family
- A fine of not more than $1000
- Loss of their gun rights- if the offender made the murder attempt by using a firearm, it is considered a felon with a gun. The main punishment or those found guilty of such offenses is the loss of their gun rights. It means that the offender will not be allowed to purchase or possess a firearm in the future. If he/she already had a weapon, they will be required to submit it.
It’s an Offense under California Three-Strike’s Law
Attempted murder is categorized under violent crimes, and so it is covered under the state’s Three-Strike’s Law. It means that a conviction will count as a blow or strike on the offender’s criminal history. If he/she receives another strike, they will be given double penalties. The third strike will result in a prison sentence of up to 25 years to life.
An offender could get a sentence enhancement if the attempted murder were committed in gang-related activity. If the offender is a criminal gang member, he might get an additional fifteen years to life to their original sentence. The two sentences will run consecutively.
A sentence enhancement is also possible for anyone found guilty of attempted murder by using a gun. California Penal Code Section 186.22 has the 10-20 life law that provides sentence enhancement criteria for particular felonies. Under this law, the offender facing charges for attempted murder could face additional sentences as follows:
- Ten more years if the use of a gun committed the offense
- Other twenty years if the offender fired the gun
- Twenty-five years to life if he/she killed another with the gun. The same applies if he/she caused severe physical injury to the other person by using a weapon.
Lastly, a conviction for California attempted murder will have grave consequences on your immigration status because the offense is considered an aggravated felony. It means that if you are a non-citizen, you could be deported upon conviction. People who have a similar conviction in their criminal record may have a hard time trying to get admitted into the country.
Common Legal Defense Strategies for California Attempted Murder Charges
The consequences of getting convicted for attempted murder in California are both many and severe. For that reason, you need to fight the charges the best way you can. It could work well if you engage the services of an experienced criminal lawyer. A competent lawyer will study your case well to look for loopholes through which he/she can weaken the evidence gathered against you. Again, there are some defense strategies that he/she can use. If used well, these strategies could compel the court to either reduce or drop your charges. Some of these strategies include:
Lack of Specific Intent to Murder
Californian attempted murder is among those crimes that require specific intent. In this case, the offender is expected to have a particular intent of killing their victim. If that intent is not there, then he/she may not be guilty of the offense. The person may have intended to maim their victim, scare, or just injure them. Prosecutors always have a challenging task proving intent, and in most cases, this is where they lose their arguments. If you had not planned to kill your victim or the evidence gathered against you is not enough to prove intent to kill, the court may drop your charges.
No Direct step Towards the Offense
Again, the offense requires that the offender take a direct step, like firing the acquired murder weapon or luring their victim to their murder. If a direct action was not taken, then the court may not find him/her guilty as charged. The defendant may have had an elaborate plan in place to murder the victim. He/she may even have acquired a gun or purchased a knife. But if no immediate step was taken after that, then he/she may not have committed an attempted murder offense.
If a person is arrested before they execute the direct step, then they could be charged with another offense like conspiring to murder, but not attempted murder. He/she may have abandoned the plans after all, and this does not make them criminal. Abandoning an illegal plan before execution shows that the defendant was remorseful or regretful of their actions, which is a good thing.
Sometimes a person can mistakenly be accused of a severe offense like attempted murder. Perhaps the victim did not see the perpetrator well and only gave out a suspect’s name. It could be that the actual offender looks a lot like you, or you were at or close to the scene where the offense was committed. In that case, you need an experienced attorney who can effectively investigate the case to prove to the court that you were not the actual perpetrator. The good thing is that the court will not require you to give out the real offender. Once there is insufficient proof that you are the actual offender, your charges will be dropped.
You Acted in Self-Defense
Self-defense is a common defense strategy for most violent crimes. A person can injure another while defending themselves or their loved ones. In California, the law allows people to use reasonable force while defending themselves or other people, but when they have a good reason to believe that their lives or others are in imminent danger. For instance, if you thought you were about to be killed, you may have attempted to kill your assailant to protect yourself.
Here, your attorney will have to demonstrate to the court the level of danger you reasonably believed you were in to have acted the way you did. He/she may be required to use evidence such as a surveillance video, eyewitness accounts, or medical records of your injuries to support their claims.
California Attempted Murder and Related Offenses
California has other offenses that are related to Penal Code Sections 664 and 187. Some of these offenses are charged together with attempted murder, while others are charged in place of the crime. These offenses are:
Shooting at Inhabited Dwelling
The crime is provided under California Penal Code Section 246. The law makes it a crime for a person to discharge a weapon and fire at an occupied dwelling, building, vehicle, aircraft, or house-car like a camper or RV. The offender must have willfully and maliciously shot a gun at a place he/she knew so well was occupied. When a person does something like that, he/she is trying to get another person or people injured. Thus, the offense is usually a felony, attracting a severe sentence of up to seven years in state prison.
Note that the offender will still be found guilty even though no one was present in the inhabited dwelling at the time of the offense.
Sentence enhancement is available for offenders who personally and intentionally draw their firearms and shoot at an inhabited place. Also, for a person who commits the offense and causes severe bodily injury or kills another person. The person could face an additional 25 years to life sentence to their original sentence.
The crime of torture is covered under Section 206 of the California Penal Code. The offense is defined as inflicting significant physical injury on a person to cause them suffering or extreme pain for persuasion, revenge, or sadistic aim. Torture is also a felony offense in California, punishable by a life sentence. The similarity between this offense and attempted murder is in the manner both offenses are committed. A person can face both charges of torture and attempted murder if elements of both offenses are satisfied by the circumstances of the crime committed.
The crime of voluntary manslaughter is very similar to that of murder. According to California Penal Code Section 192, voluntary manslaughter is defined as the killing of a person by another in the course of an argument, the heat of passion, or in case the offender unreasonably but honestly believed that they needed to defend themselves. Since the killing is not deliberate, voluntary manslaughter is usually considered a lesser offense to murder. However, California voluntary manslaughter is still a felony offense, attracting a prison sentence of up to 11 years.
Therefore, voluntary manslaughter will be a lesser offense to attempted murder. If a person is facing charges for attempted murder and the evidence against them is compelling, he/she could choose to plead guilty of attempted voluntary manslaughter to face less severe penalties. The offense will be an attempted voluntary manslaughter if all the elements are correct for attempted murder except that the crime was committed intentionally, with malice aforethought.
Aiding suicide is an offense covered under California Penal Laws Section 401. A person is accused of assisting another to commit suicide if he/she deliberately advises, aids, or encourages another person to take their own life. Note that the person will still be guilty of the offense even if the other person does not die. There is not much difference between California’s aiding a suicide and attempted murder.
Example: Sarah and James are very close friends. Sarah is battling depression and is suicidal. She has managed to convince James to help her end her life. If Jones pushes Sarah off a tall building, she will be charged with aiding suicide if she convinces the court that it was done at her friend’s request. However, if James is caught before he pushes her off the building, he could face charges for either attempting to aide suicide or attempted murder.
The former carries less severe charges and could be the best option or the offender to plead guilty to if he/she has no other choice.
Find an Orange County Criminal Lawyer Near Me
Attempted Murder is an offense that carries grave consequences, including a lengthy prison term and life-altering consequences. The right thing to do for anyone facing charges for the crime is to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney. Your attorney will be by your side throughout the legal process and plan a strong defense against your charges. If you are in Orange County, CA, call us at 714-262-4833. At Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we have the resources ready to begin the process right away.
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