Attempted murder is the crime of taking a substantial step towards intentionally killing a human being. Unlike murder, attempted murder does not result in the death of another person. In order to be convicted of an attempted murder charge, there must be evidence that a person intended to kill a person or behaved in a reckless way that disregarded another person’s life.

While the specific definition for attempted murder varies by state, generally there must be evidence of the two elements of attempted murder, intent and substantial step, for the crime to have been committed.

What is Intent in an Attempted Murder Charge?

Intent is a required element for an attempted murder charge. In order for this element to be met, an individual must have made the decision to kill another person, or acted in a way where killing another person was a real possibility based on their reckless actions. In some cases, intent can be a difficult element to prove and lack of intent is a common defense to attempted murder charges.

Evidence of intent varies on a case by case basis, based on the actions and motivations of the person charged. In some situations, evidence of intent to kill can be shown by the weapon used against the victim and the location of the victim’s wounds.

Shooting or wounding a victim in the head or upper body with a deadly weapon may be evidence of intent to kill, as injuries to these areas on the body from deadly weapons are more likely to result in death. In comparison, stabbing a victim in the hand with a butter knife is likely not enough evidence to prove intent.

What is a “Substantial Step” in an Attempted Murder Charge?

In addition to having the intent to kill another person, attempted murder requires a “substantial step” element. A substantial or direct step must be taken towards committing a murder. The definition of a substantial step is based on a variety of factors and varies on a case by case basis.

In general, a substantial step is when a person takes a more direct action towards committing a murder than simply buying a gun or talking casually about killing an unspecified person. Using a weapon against a specific victim, visiting the potential location of the murder, or paying someone to kill the intended victim may be considered substantial steps towards committing a murder.

What are the Degrees of Attempted Murder?

Attempted murder charges can be in the first degree or the second degree. The exact definitions of the degrees of attempted murder vary by state.

Generally, a first degree attempted murder charge requires evidence of premeditation. Premeditation is typically defined as making a conscious and deliberate decision to kill a person. Evidence of premeditation may be found in a situation referred to as lying in wait. An example of this is when a person hides outside of a victim’s home with a deadly weapon and waits for them to return.

Second-degree attempted murder is a less severe charge than first-degree attempted murder. In most states, second-degree attempted murder does not require premeditation. This degree of attempted murder, sometimes referred to as a heat of passion attempted killing, is where a person becomes so enraged at another person that they try to kill them without pausing to consider the seriousness of their actions.

This degree of attempted murder is also charged when an individual behaves in a way that is extremely careless or negligent, such as in incidents involving road rage.

What are the Punishments for an Attempted Murder Conviction?

Sentences for an attempted murder conviction vary by state. A first degree attempted murder can be punished by up to a lifetime in prison and a second-degree conviction is punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Sentences may also be impacted by other factors, such as where a person has previous felony convictions or is a habitual offender.

What are the Possible Defenses to Attempted Murder Charges?

There are multiple defenses to attempted murder charges. Common defenses may include arguments that:

  • The defendant could not form the deliberate intent to kill another person because they were intoxicated, under the influence of drugs, or otherwise incapable of understanding their actions;
  • The defendant did not make a substantial step towards committing a murder;
  • The defendant was acting in self-defense; and/or
  • The defendant only intended to inflict bodily harm or cause serious injury to the victim, but not kill the victim.

Do I Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer If I Am Facing Charges for Attempted Murder?

If you’ve been charged with attempted murder, it’s in your best interest to contact a criminal lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal law is a complicated area to understand on your own.

Attempted murder is a serious crime and a conviction for first or second degree attempted murder can result in spending years in jail. An attorney will help you understand your legal rights and defenses in your specific case and will represent your interests in court.