The definition for attempted murder occurs when an individual has an actual intent to carry out a murder or killing of another and takes a substantial step toward the commission of that the killing. The crime of attempted murder will be committed even though the actual killing did not occurred and the defendant failed to complete the crime. Some states will charge a defendant for attempted murder even if the defendant had the intent to commit the murder and started preparation to commit the crime.

Because attempt crimes are always incomplete because the actual crime falls short, establishing intent that the person had the mindset of completing the intended crime is the main element to secure a conviction.

Elements of Attempted Murder

Attempted murder is a very serious criminal charge. To be convicted of attempted murder, prosecutors must be able to prove:

  • Deliberate or reckless behavior with extreme disregard for human life
  • An intention to actually kill someone
  • Substantial evidence that considerable steps were made to commit murder 

Following these general guidelines, pointing a gun at someone would not constitute attempted murder but firing the gun, even if you do not hit them, would probably be attempted murder. Attempted murder can also be charged for trying to hit someone with your car or profoundly wounding someone and leaving them for dead so long as your intent was murder.

Degrees of Attempted Murder

Like murder, attempted murder can be separated in seriousness and penalties based upon certain factors. These factors are:

  • First Degree: the defendant planned to kill the victim or was lying in wait for the victim. Attempted murder on a police officer will also be first degree, regardless of planning.
  • Second Degree: the defendant didn’t plan on killing the victim. This typically includes attempted killings during a “heat of passion” or attempted killings while acting in a way which is seriously careless or negligent.

Attempted Murder Sentencing

Sentences for attempted murder vary from state to state but extenuating circumstances can extend the length of a sentence exponentially. Normal sentences for attempted murder can rage from 5 to 30 years; however, there are oftentimes accompanying charges and circumstances that tie into attempted murder like felonious assault, illegal gun possession, and the severity of the attack. Under the Criminal Attempts Act of 1981, attempted murder is an indictable offense which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. Life imprison for attempted murder is not unheard of like the Maryland case against Carlos Ovalle.

Possible Defenses to Attempted Murder

Since attempted murder is a type of homicide charge, the defenses to a homicide charge will often work in an attempted murder charge. If those defenses aren’t satisfying, the attempted murder charge can be disproven by negating any of the elements required for proving an attempted murder:

  • The defendant didn’t have the intent to kill. Since the prosecution must show that the defendant wanted to kill the victim at a specific period of time, this will be the hardest element for any prosecutor to prove.
  • The defendant didn’t take all the steps necessary to accomplish the murder. This can be just as much of a challenge for a prosecutor to prove as intention, as this element requires that the prosecutor prove that the defendant tried and failed to do something.
  • The defendant was intoxicated and never formed the specific intent to commit the crime prior to the actual killing

The main element that has to be negated is the defendant's mindset and intent. If the defendant only intended to commit harm or serious harm, but never had the specific intent to kill, then the defendant will not be convicted of attempted murder unless the person actually dies from defendant's reckless act.

What Can You Do If Accused of Attempted Murder?

Systems of gradation vary from one state to the next but if you are charged with attempted murder than you should immediately consult a criminal lawyer who is familiar with your state and county laws and court procedures.