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What Are the Best Defenses for Attempted Murder Charges?

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding, ESQ. | Jun 24, 2022

California Penal Code 664/187 defines the crime of attempted murder in either the first or second degree.  As the name suggests, nobody has to be killed for the defendant to be charged and convicted of attempted murder.

This article will discuss some unique aspects of attempted murder under California law, including the defendant's mental state, which the prosecutor must prove to secure a conviction.

I've been defending people charged with Penal Code 664/187 PC attempted murder for about 30 years, so I have several different strategies and angles that I've used.  The first thing you have to decide is whether or not your client is going to take a deal or whether or not you're going to take the case to trial.

Let's start with whether you will take the case to trial.  Maybe you're looking for a lawyer for your loved one. Perhaps you're the one charged in the attempted murder case.

If you're going to take it to trial, you've got to have a defense, and it's not all of the same defenses in every attempted murder case.

It depends on the facts and circumstances you're dealing with. Our California criminal defense lawyers will examine this law more closely below.

What About the Intent to Kill Factor?

The most important defining factor of a PC 664/187 attempted murder charge is the intent to kill.  A defendant could be convicted of second-degree murder without intent to kill.

A sufficiently reckless act that is inherently dangerous to human life can rise to the level of a PC 187 murder charge when someone is killed, even if there was no intent to kill or even hurt anyone.

Intent to Kill Factor in Attempted Murder Charges

Attempt, however, requires the specific intent to kill.  While a defendant could be found guilty of several other crimes for attempting to carry out a dangerous act, they are not guilty of attempted murder unless the prosecution can prove that they intended to kill one or more victims.

Further, another distinguishing element of attempted murder is the requirement that a defendant takes a “direct step” toward accomplishing the murder.

It's not enough that the defendant intended to kill someone.  They must take some tangible action toward accomplishing their goal before a charge of attempted murder under Penal Code 664/187 PC can be sustained. Some examples of the direst step include:

  • shooting a gun in the direction of the intended victim,
  • attempting to stab the victim with a knife,
  • paying an assassin to kill the intended victim.

How Can You Challenge the Prosecutor's Case?

Some attempted murder cases are who did it cases, meaning you don't know who the person is who did it.  The prosecutors and police think the person they are charging is the one that did it, and then the question becomes, do they have the evidence to prove that.

Sometimes they do have evidence; sometimes, their evidence is weak.  Sometimes their evidence is based on speculation.  Sometimes their evidence is based on single witness identification.

There could be various reasons somebody is identifying another person, but in a who done it case, the argument is, look, somebody tried to kill this person, but I'm not the one who wanted to do it.

What About a Self-Defense Argument?

Another defense would be self-defense.  Sometimes somebody comes to you with a knife, a gun, a bat, whatever the case is, and you've got to defend yourself.  I've had many instances where my client was attacked with a knife or gun.

They managed to get the weapon away from the attacker, stabbed that person, and then charged with attempted murder.  But the reality was, they weren't guilty of attempted murder because you're allowed to defend yourself, especially when someone's trying to kill you.  You can undoubtedly use deadly force to protect yourself.

Another idea when you're going o take the case to trial is if you could come up with some motive as to why the alleged victim might lie if they're the ones trying to identify you, or you could attack the case on the evidence.

Does the Prosecutor Have the Evidence to Prove Attempted Murder?

In any attempted murder case, just like any criminal case, there's specific evidence that you might expect to find if somebody's guilty.  For example:

Evidence in Attempted Murder Cases
  • Do they have witnesses that saw the crime?
  • Is there video evidence?
  • Is there any physical evidence like DNA, fingerprints, or gunshot residue?
  • Did they find the gun on the person if it was a shooting case?

It depends on the circumstances of the case.  So, you have to look at everything when defending these attempted murder cases.

Can You Negotiate for a Lesser Crime?

Yes. Now, if you've got a situation where you may be guilty of something, prosecutors can prove it, and you're being charged with attempted murder. You don't want the attempted murder charge because maybe it's an attempt premeditated murder that comes with a 15 to a life sentence or more, so you need a different charge.

That's another angle – try to convince the prosecutors to change the charge.  For example, an attempted murder charge can often be changed to an assault with a deadly weapon charge.

That does not dictate a 15 to a life sentence.  That's not as bad as an attempted murder charge. So, negotiating is another way and another idea to deal with an attempted murder case.  Of course, one of the best defenses in attempted murder cases is I didn't intend to kill the person.

Contact a Criminal Defense Professional for Help

Maybe there's a fight; someone's attacked, and you're being charged with trying to kill the person, but the reality is, you stop the attack in the middle of it, or you were trying to defend yourself, whatever the case may be.

Attempted Murder Defense Lawyer in California

That's one big thing that must be proved in an attempted murder case is that the person was trying to kill the other person.

There's a famous case, Reginald Denny, who was a truck driver in the Rodney King situation.  He gets attacked, hit with a brick, and brutally beaten on TV, and the person hitting him was found not guilty of attempted murder because they stopped the attack.

That's a good defense.  Why would the guy stop the attack if he's trying to kill him? So, you have to look at everything.  You need an attorney that knows the ins and outs of the criminal justice system.

If you want the best, you've come to the right place.  Pick up the phone now.  Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding.  I stand at the ready to help you. The Hedding Law is located in Los Angeles, California. We provide a free case consultation by phone or use the contact form.

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About the Author

Ronald D. Hedding, ESQ.

Ronald D. Hedding, Esq., is the founding member of the Hedding Law Firm. Mr. Hedding has an extensive well-rounded legal background in the area of Criminal Law. He has worked for the District Attorney's Office, a Superior Court Judge, and as the guiding force behind the Hedding Law Firm. His multi-faceted experience sets Mr. Hedding apart and puts him in an elite group of the best Criminal Defense Attorneys in Southern California.