Murder: The unlawful and intentional taking of human life. No crimes are considered more serious than murder, in fact, it is one of only a few crimes which are punishable by death.
If a person attempts to take the life of another human being but is unsuccessful, they can be charged with attempted murder. While not quite as serious of a charge as murder, attempted murder is considered to be a very serious crime and as such, it carries extremely heavy penalties.
The legal definition of attempted murder states that in order for a person to be guilty of attempted murder, they will have deliberately, intentionally or recklessly, with extreme disregard for human life, attempted to kill someone. Similar to most other crimes, a person must have had the intent to commit the crime. Applied to the crime of attempted murder, intent means that the accused must have taken direct steps to kill and also have had the intent to kill that specific person.
To obtain a conviction, it is the prosecution’s task to demonstrate that direct steps were taken to actually kill their intended victim. The required direct steps have been explained by courts by stating that the accused must have done more than simply preparing to commit murder. Instead, they must actually have begun to perpetrate their plan.
Actions that fall under the term “preparation”:
- Talking about committing the crime
- Thinking about committing the crime
- Making plans to commit the crime
Actions that fall under the concept of “perpetration,” or putting the plan into motion:
- Tracking, ambushing or stalking: The accused tracked, followed, or hid while waiting to see the victim, in the hopes that an opportunity to murder the victim would present itself
- Luring: The defendant attempted to entice or convince the intended victim to be in a specific place that was necessary to make the murder possible
- Breaking in: The charged person unlawfully snuck into a property, home or place where they thought that the victim might be
- Constructing: The accused gathered together the necessary materials to commit the murder. Examples would include a collection of the items needed to abduct, kill and hid a body, OR collecting and beginning to put together the items needed to build a bomb
- Soliciting: The charged person convinced another person to unknowingly assist with carrying out the crime, such as getting someone to unknowingly plant a bomb. OR Convincing or paying someone to knowingly commit the murder.
It is impossible to accidentally commit attempted murder. By definition, the word attempted means to make an effort at; to try; to undertake. To get an attempted murder conviction, it is the prosecution’s responsibility to provide evidence or proof to the fact that the defendant specifically and intentionally intended to commit the crime of murder. In fact, not only must the prosecutor show that the defendant intended to kill, they must also show that the specific victim was the intended target.
- Intent to act: To be convicted, the person accused of attempted murder must have the intent to fulfill the necessary actions. If they were thinking about building a bomb to kill someone, and they coincidentally were in the possession of all of the materials needed to build a bomb, however, they don’t actually know how to build a bomb, then that person did not have the intent to act. If the accused researched how to build a bomb, went a purchased the necessary items and then actually build the bomb, that they would have committed a direct step.
- Intent to kill: To be convicted, the person accused of attempted murder must have intended to kill their targeted victim. If they only intended to frighten, disfigure or maim someone then they did not have the intent to kill.
If a person is charged with attempted murder, there are several potential defenses that their attorney could make. Due to the fact that an attempted murder did not result in an actual murder, there are a couple specific defense arguments that are not typically relevant to other types of cases:
- Renunciation or withdrawal
Impossibility is a defense where the defendant does not deny that they committed the necessary actions necessary to perpetrate the crime. Instead, they claim that even if everything went to plan, a murder was not actually possible. While this defense is specific only to a couple of crime, attempted murder included, some states have abolished the impossibility defense, making it an unaccepted defense for any crime, including the crime of attempted murder.
A renunciation defense is sometimes referred to as withdrawal. The premise of this specific defense is that while the accused did, in fact, commit one or more direct steps to commit the crime, after the steps were committed, they decided to not go through with the act of committing the murder. When renunciation is used as a defense, it is up to the defendant and their legal team to prove that the crime was abandoned due to the accused intentionally putting a stop to all efforts, or that they took the necessary steps to prevent the murder from taking place.
The charge of attempted murder is always a felony charge. While it does not carry the weight of a potential death penalty, it is very harshly punished. First-degree attempted murder means that the accused planned and premeditated the plan to kill the victim. Second-degree attempted murder is when the accused acted in a fit of passion or rage, or they attempted to kill someone without premeditation.
As with all crimes that are split into degrees, a first-degree attempted murder conviction will carry a longer prison sentence than a second-degree attempted murder conviction. Often, a person found guilty of first-degree attempted murder will receive a sentence of life in prison while a second-degree attempted murder conviction can result in a prison sentence typically ranging from 5 to 15 years.
Florida Statute 782.051 details the specifics of attempted murder penalties and can be found at http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0700-0799/0782/0782.html
Charges of attempted murder are extremely serious and if a person finds themselves being investigated for this crime, it is highly recommended that they obtain the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney.