Attempting to commit a crime is illegal, so attempted murder is taken very seriously. This Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer article will break down California’s Public Crime 664, Section 189 and other legislature to describe how attempted murder is treated in front of the law and how specific defenses and situations can reduce the charge.
Attempted Murder Crime Definition In California (PC 664)
An attempted crime is defined as any attempted crime that fails to be carried out or one that is intercepted or prevented in its execution.
Attempted Murder In California
California defines attempting murder as when someone (1) intends to inflict death on another human being, and (2) makes a direct yet unsuccessful attempt to kill that person.
Defining a Direct Attempt
A direct attempt is an act beyond just preparing to kill someone. This means carrying out an action to put that plan in motion, which could mean utilizing a weapon (ex: knife or gun) against someone. Hiring someone to murder a person on your behalf would also count as a direct attempt; however, a distinct murder solicitation charge would carry a lighter sentence than attempted murder.
Proving One’s Intention to Kill
The alleged victim’s injuries, or lack thereof, are crucial details that will influence the outcome of an attempted murder case.
The prosecution must prove that you aimed to kill rather than just seriously injure the alleged victim. For example, injuries to the person’s upper body, where vital organs and specifically the head and heart are located, can be used to proof the desire to kill. Contrarily, if the person only sustained injuries to the lower body, your defense lawyer injuries can argue that you did not wish to kill. Other circumstances and evidence will also come into play, especially if the alleged victim did not sustain injuries.
A 'Specific Intention' To Kill
In California, if you did not manifest the specific intention to kill another person, you are not guilty of attempted murder. Alternative, less severe charges, could include the intention to maim said person (PC 203) or to scare them (PC 240 or PC 245) if you are able to prove that you harbored one of these alternative motives other than to kill.
Intention to Kill That Specific Person
Even without an identified target, an attempted murder can still be proven by the prosecution. This is exemplified in drive-by shootings where shot(s) are fired into a crowd or if a bomb is placed on an airplane. In both of these examples, the shooter and the person who set the bomb can be charged for multiple attempted murders even if they only had one person that they intended to kill. The defendant would be responsible for any and all injuries and deaths that their weapons caused.
The Lack of Taking a ‘Direct Step’
In California, if your plan stops short of taking direct action to kill somebody, that is if you decide not to carry out the plan or if you get “caught” before the direct step, then you are not guilty of attempted murder. For example, even if the evidence found is that you wrote down every detail of how a murder would have taken place and that you bought weapons to carry out the plan, you have not violated the law for attempted murder. As long as you voluntarily and freely abandoned your plan or were stopped short of doing so, you cannot be convicted of attempted murder.
However, taking just one intentional step towards killing someone, even if efforts are abandoned later on can prove guiltiness of the alleged attempted murder. Nonetheless, a criminal lawyer could negotiate a reduced charge if you demonstrate remorse and regret.
Definition and Consequences of Attempted Murder (First-degree)
Attempted crimes usually subject one to half the sentence of that of committing the crime; however, felonies such as attempted first-degree murder can result in a life sentence in California. PC 664 defines this murder attempt as premeditated, deliberate, and willful. The alleged perpetrator did not need to have reflected upon how serious their actions were for the attempt to have been “premeditated and deliberate.”
Subdivisions (e) and (f) of PC 664 clarify that an attempt on the life of a peace officer, firefighter or custodial officer (prison or jail guard) while they are performing their duties, is punished with a mandatory 15 years to a life sentence. First-degree attempted murder can be proven in situations of the perpetration of kidnapping, train wrecking, lying in wait, mayhem, burglary, robbery, carjacking, rape or arson. The deliberate use of poison, torture, an explosive, weapon of mass destruction or ammunition designed to penetrate armor or metal are also subject to prosecution of attempted murder in the first-degree.
Lastly, a person can be found guilty of attempted murder even if they were not the (attempted) killer if they assisted, requested, solicited, induced, commanded, counseled, aided or abetted the (attempted) murderer in the attempted commission of first-degree murder with the intention to kill.
Definition and Consequences of Attempted Murder (Second-degree)
Attempted murder of the second-degree is one in which the attempt was not premeditated, deliberate, and willful. A sentence for this charge is typically five, seven, or nine years unless the alleged victim is a peace officer, firefighter or custodial officer. If the defendant knew or should have reasonably known that the alleged victim was carrying out their duties in one of these protected roles, then the sentence could be significantly higher. For example, PC 190 (b) states that murder in the second degree of a peace officer carries a sentence of 25 years to life, so the attempted murder of a peace officer would likely result in a similar punishment.
Additional Penalties for Attempted Murder
The additional penalties that you could face for both first and second degree attempted murders could include paying victim restitution of up to $10,000 in fines and losing the right to acquire, possess, or own a firearm. California PC 29800 defines this latter penalty for anyone who has a warrant or a conviction of a felony in the U.S. or any other country.
Defining the Three Strikes Law In California
The California Three Strikes Law requires a convicted person that has already been convicted of a serious or violent felony 2 times before to serve a prison term of twice the amount of the recommended term for the specific crime. That is if a defendant is convicted of a felony with a sentence of five years, but it is their “second strike,” then the sentence will be doubled to ten years. Further, a person with two or more strikes on their record that is found guilty of a subsequent violent or serious felony will be sentenced to a term of no less than 25 years to life.
Gang-Related Enhancement Can Affect Your Sentencing
In California, PC 186.22 can increase your sentence of attempted murder if the court proves that the crime committed was directed by, in association with, or to benefit an organized street gang and if it was with specific intention to assist or promote criminal conduct of gang members. Section 1170.1 (d) describes that the length of this enhancement or increase in the sentence is at the discretion of the court. For example, a gang-related attempted murder could add 15 years to a normal sentence.
I Acted In Self-Defense According to California's Laws
The imminent threat of bodily harm against you or another person can excuse your action to attempt to kill the person making that threat. In California’s PC 197 (2) and (3), homicide or the attempt of homicide is justifiable when committed in defense of person, property, or home dwelling. If someone manifests an intent to commit a felony, putting you or someone in your home in imminent danger, it is within your rights to take reasonable action to prevent the violent act of said assailant, which could include attempting to kill them.
As described in PC 192, manslaughter is when you kill someone unlawfully, but without the desire to injure or kill them. The three types of manslaughter in California are (a) voluntary, (b) involuntary, and (c) vehicular.
Attempted murder can be reduced to attempted voluntary manslaughter if you acted due to a reasonably perceived heat of passion moment or the occurrence of a sudden quarrel.
However, subdivision (f) (1) explains that in determining the nature of such a moment, the knowledge about, potential disclosure or discovery of the alleged victim’s sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity or perceived or actual gender means that the actions would not be objectively reasonable. That is newfound knowledge of someone’s identity or expression of gender, or sexual orientation does not excuse one of acting violently towards them.
Involuntary manslaughter is a situation that may lead to death due to an unlawful act that is not a felony or because of a lawful act where due circumspection or caution is not heeded to.
In situations where a vehicle is involved, vehicular manslaughter may have taken place. This could happen when a person acts (drives) in a lawful or unlawful manner and may or may not act with gross negligence that might cause death. Creating a vehicular accident or collision for financial gain that proximately leads to the death of a human being might also be considered vehicular manslaughter.
If any of these situations resemble yours, your attempted murder charge may be able to be reduced to manslaughter.
The Consequences of Involving a Firearm
The use of a gun in an attempted murder could further enhance your sentence according to State Bill 620 and PC 12022.5. The use of a firearm in an attempted murder adds ten years to the sentence, and 20 years if the gun is fired. If the firearm causes great bodily harm (or death), the sentence increases to 25 years to life. The court may, in the interest of justice, dismiss or strike said enhancement that would otherwise be required by law.
Specific Situation for Immigrants
An attempted murder conviction of an immigrant, in the U.S. unlawfully or with legal status, lead to removal or deportation. The federal Immigration and Nationality Act details specific criminal offenses, which can result in deporting any non-citizen residing in the U.S. This list includes ‘aggravated felonies,’ and in California, attempted murder can result in deportation.
How Domestic Violence Relates to Attempted Murder
In situations of alleged domestic violence, PC 273.5 or PC 243 (e) (1), a charge of attempted murder could be made if the prosecutor finds evidence that the defendant had an intention to murder their spouse or intimate partner. PC 273.5 is a felony that charges someone with willfully inflicting a corporal injury that results in the alleged victim’s traumatic condition. The victim must be a spouse, former spouse, cohabitant, former cohabitant, fiancé(e), dating partner or former dating partner of the alleged offender or the parent of the alleged offender’s child. The charge of PC 273.5, results in a maximum sentence of four years in prison or up to $6,000 in fines.
PC 243 (e) (1), a domestic violence situation of battery and assault, is a separate domestic violence charge that consists of battery committed against a person of the same qualifications as PC 273.5 describes. The sentence for PC 243 is lighter than PC 273.5 and carries a maximum penalty of one year in county jail or a $2,000 fine.
Both PC 273.5 and PC 243 (e) (1) can be combined with an attempted murder charge to increase the sentence heavily. However, in certain cases, a criminal lawyer can try to have an attempted murder charge reduced to one of the lighter domestic violence sentences.
Attempting To Aid In a Suicide Carries Criminal Consequences
According to PC 401, it is a felony to deliberately encourage, advise, or aid another person to take their own life. That is assisted suicide or attempted assisted suicide can be viewed as either aiding attempted suicide or attempted murder. Aiding in an attempted suicide carries a lighter sentence than that of attempted murder, but the difference between the two is not always clear. Giving someone poison so that they can commit suicide would be considered aiding in suicide. On the contrary, if a suicidal person wants you to suffocate them with a pillow, and you follow through with it, you would find yourself with a murder charge (or an attempted murder charge if they survive).
A Solicitation To Commit Murder Can Be Less Serious Than Attempted Murder
PC 653F explains that any person that solicits another to carry-out an offense (such as murder) will be charged with a crime. In the case of soliciting murder, with the intent that the action is carried out, you can be charged with a felony. However, California law views soliciting another person to commit murder as a much less grievous crime than attempting murder. The sentence for the murder solicitation is three, six, or nine years in state prison. In the situation that a murder solicitation was made rather than direct action to attempt murder, you are better off petitioning that your charge be reduced to solicitation charge.
California's Torture Law: If the Torture Can Lead To Death, It Is Attempted Murder
As described in PC 206 and previously mentioned in PC 664, the intention to cause suffering and extreme or cruel pain for a sadistic purpose, persuasion, extortion or revenge and inflicts great bodily injury upon another person has committed torture. Even if no proof exists that the victim suffered any pain, the charge of torture can still be made. Further, PC 664 lists torture as a method that if leads to death, would count as first-degree murder. Because of PC 664, prosecutors can argue that attempting to cause extreme or cruel pain upon someone is also attempted murder.
Reducing My Criminal Charge
In certain situations, a lesser sentence can be enforced on a defendant if they are found to be legally insane or mentally impaired at the time of the murder attempt. According to CALCRIM number 3450, a person can be found legally insane if they have a mental defect or disease and if due to that defect or disease that they are incapable of understanding or knowing the nature or gravity of their actions.
Heat of passion or provocation defense can reduce the attempted murder to attempted voluntary manslaughter. California Criminal Jury Instructions (CALCRIM) number 603, if the alleged perpetrator tried to kill someone in the heat of passion or due to a sudden quarrel. It must be proven that a similar provocation would have also caused an average person to act carelessly without fully deliberating the situation. Intense emotion must also have obscured the alleged perpetrator's judgment, causing such a rash action.
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