Of all the crimes punished by society, none are more serious than the
crime of murder, the intentional and unlawful taking of a human life.
Apart from the federal crimes of espionage and treason, murder is the
only crime for which the death penalty is a potential punishment, though
only in some states.
The crime of attempted murder can be charged
when a person intends to commit murder and tries to carry out the
killing but, for whatever reason, is unable to accomplish it. Like
murder itself, attempted murder is a serious crime and one that comes
with some of the most severe penalties in the criminal justice system.
Murder and Attempted Murder
murder is the failed or aborted attempt to murder another person. Just
like other crimes, attempted murder consists of both an action and an
intention. In attempted murder, a person must take a direct step towards
the killing and must have the specific intent to kill that person.
order to be convicted of attempted murder, a prosecutor must show that
the accused took a “direct step” towards killing the targeted victim.
Courts have explained the requirement for a direct step by stating that a
person must go beyond merely preparing to commit the crime, and instead
cross over into actually perpetrating it. Preparation is thinking about
committing the crime, talking about it, or otherwise planning to do it,
while perpetration is taking an action that puts the plan in motion and
that would result in the intended killing. The kinds of actions that
are enough to be a direct step differs from case to case, though there
are a range of actions that can qualify, such as:
- Stalking, tracking, or ambushing. This
includes hiding out in waiting, tracking the victim down, or following
the victim, hoping for an opportunity to commit the murder.
- Luring. Includes trying
to convince the victim to come to a specific place or take specific
actions that will make it possible for the victim to be murdered.
- Breaking-in. For example, unlawfully sneaking into a home, property, or other place where the victim is or thought to be.
- Constructing. This
might include collecting all the materials necessary for the murder,
such as the parts of a bomb, and starting to put them together.
- Soliciting. For
instance, paying or convincing someone else to commit the murder, or
even convincing an unknowing person to carry out a key part of the
crime, such as unknowingly planting a bomb.
cannot accidentally commit attempted murder. To be convicted of
attempted murder, a prosecutor must show that the accused specifically
intended to commit the crime. The prosecutor must not only show that the
accused intended to kill, but that the intent was to kill the specific
- Intent to act. You
must have the intent to take the required actions. In other words, you
have to intend to carry out the direct step. For example, if you are
thinking about killing someone with a home-made bomb and,
coincidentally, end up buying the pieces you need to make the bomb
before you ever know how to make it, you don't have the intent to commit
the direct step. If, on the other hand, you research bomb making and
then buy the material and put the bomb together, you have committed a
- Intent to kill. To be convicted of attempted
murder, the accused must intend to cause a specific harm, namely to
kill the targeted victim. You cannot, for example, commit attempted
murder if you intended to only maim, frighten, or disfigure someone. It
can be difficult for the prosecutor to prove this point, but often, the
circumstances of the crime lead naturally to this conclusion. For
example, if you hit someone in the head with a lead pipe, that alone may
be enough to show that you intended to kill the person. On the other
hand, hitting someone in the legs is less lethal, and may not amount to
Some prosecutions fail
because the state’s attorney cannot prove that the accused committed a
direct step, or that the accused had the specific intent to murder. But
sometimes, the jury may not convict due to a particular defense offered
by the defendant. Because an attempted murder does not result in the
intended harm, specific defenses are available that are not always
relevant in other cases.
- Impossibility. An
impossibility defense is one where the accused doesn't deny having
committed the acts, but instead claims that even if everything went to
plan, there couldn't have been a murder anyway. For example, the accused
might claim that the gun used in the attempt was a non-functioning
replica, so the murder could never have happened. However, some states
have passed laws that abolish the impossibility defense, and in these
states, it is not an accepted defense for any attempted crimes,
including attempted murder.
- Renunciation or withdrawal.
Some states allow for a “renunciation” defense, sometimes known as
withdrawal. This defense provides that even though the accused committed
at least one direct step, the accused later decided not to commit the
murder. Unlike showing that the prosecution failed to adequately prove
one of the elements, the accused must prove that the crime was abandoned
because the defendant intentionally stopped any and all efforts to
continue it or took steps to prevent the murder from occurring.
Punishments for Attempted Murder
murder is the most serious crime and has the most serious penalties
associated with it, attempted murder is also punished very harshly.
However, while some states allow for the death penalty in murder cases,
that punishment is not possible in attempted murder cases. Attempted
murder is always a felony offense, and states typically impose a prison
sentence equal to about half the sentence associated with a murder
- Degrees. Like murder, attempted
murder is charged as either a first degree or second degree offense.
First degree attempted murder means the person intentionally, and with
premeditation, tried to kill someone else; while second degree attempted
murder means the accused acted without premeditation, or acted in a fit
of passion. Second degree murder also includes deaths that occur while
the accused is engaged in committing another felony, such as arson or
burglary. (However, states can vary as to how they categorize first and
second degree murder.)
- Sentence. A conviction
for first degree attempted murder brings a lengthier prison sentence
than a conviction for second-degree attempted murder. First degree
attempted murder is often punished with a life sentence, though the
convicted does have the possibility to receive parole. Second degree
attempted murder usually comes with a lengthy prison sentence, often
ranging from between 5 to 15 years in prison.
Talk to a Lawyer
anyone who faces a potential attempted murder charge, the need to speak
to an experienced attorney is grave. Attempted murder is one of the
most serious charges anyone can face, with the potential to ruin your
life regardless of whether you are convicted. Only a qualified criminal
defense attorney with years of courtroom experience and deep
understanding of the law, local courtroom procedures, and criminal
investigations can give you adequate legal advice. It is always in your
best interest to speak to an attorney as soon as possible if you are
facing any kind of criminal charges.