In most states, attempted murder is arguably the most serious violent or physical crime that can be committed in relation to assault or the harm of another, just short of actually causing the death of a victim through full murder. Unlike an actual act of homicide, which requires the complete intent to kill another person, or commit grievous bodily harm, and the actual death of another person, attempted murder only requires a high level of malicious intent towards a particularly victim or separate party.
Attempted murder can generally be defined as either the attempted and failed, or completely aborted attempt to murder another person. By aborted, it's worth noting that this doesn't mean that the accused decided not to carry out an act of attempted murder, but that another person, for instance a police officer or anybody else who happened to be in the location, managed to stop the murder from happening.
Just like many other crimes within the criminal justice system today, the act of attempted murder must consist of intention and action. However, unlike in a homicide case where the action is the killing of another person, in attempted murder, the action is simply taking a direct and distinct step towards the murder of someone else, with the intent to kill that person.
Attempted Murder: Taking Action
For charges of attempted murder to be successfully brought against a particular defendant, a prosecutor must be able to show that the accused in question took a step directly towards the process of actually killing a particular person. According to various courts within the United States, the concept of action simply means that the person in question must have gone beyond simply preparing to commit a crime, and instead must have taken steps to make the murder happen.
For instance, beyond just thinking about or planning a murder, an attempted murder conviction requires the accused to have gone out and bought the equipment to conduct the murder, or perhaps taken other steps that would have allowed the murder to take place. For instance, a direct action might include physically going out and purchasing the parts required to construct a bomb that might be used to kill a particular person, or going to purchase a gun and a gun license that would be used to kill someone else.
Other actions that can be classed as a direct step in an attempted murder case may include:
- Tracking or stalking the intended victim. For instance, this might mean hiding out and watching the victim over a period of time, or following the victim to find an opportunity wherein the murder may be committed.
- Attempting to lure a victim into an isolated place, or a place that has been set up for the murder specifically. For example, if the intent is to kill someone with a bomb, then luring might involve attempting to direct a person towards the place where the bomb has been set.
- Breaking into a home with the intent to kill the person within. For instance, this might occur when a person breaks into a home with a deadly weapon, specifically for the purpose of committing a murder.
- Soliciting another person, either by payment or convincing that person to commit the murder by threat or any other motivation. This can also apply to circumstances wherein you convince other people to carry parts of a bomb, or a participate in a key part of the crime without their knowledge of your plan.
Attempted Murder and the Intent to Kill
In many states, just like Massachusetts, another crucial aspect that must be taken into account when making an attempted murder charge, is the presence of the intent to kill. Merely intending to cause serious bodily harm to another person cannot be sufficient to prove that attempted murder took place unless there has been some evidence of an actual intent to kill a person. For example, simply stabbing someone in the leg, by itself doesn't necessarily represent an intent to kill. However, stabbing someone in the chest would represent a satisfactory example of the requisite intent.
In some cases, it is not necessary to have the specific intent to kill a victim. For example, the act of firing a gun into a residence and injuring a person who was not an intended target may meet the elements of attempted murder, because the offender showed some intent to kill when he or she chose to fire a firearm into a building that she or he knew to be inhabited. Meanwhile, it is possible for people to abandon their intent to kill another person if they do so before they take a direct step towards enabling the crime. For instance, simply deciding not to pay another person to kill your chosen target, or choosing to dispose of the materials that you bought with the intent to kill can be indications that you abandoned your intent.
Punishments and Penalties for Attempted Murder
When charges of attempted murder are successfully brought against a specific defendant, certain punishments and penalties can occur. Because murder is the most serious crime around, it has the most serious penalties associated with it. As such, it makes sense that attempted murder would also be punished quite severely. However, it's important to remember that although some states will allow for the potential of the death sentence in cases of murder, such a penalty will not be permitted in any state for simply an act of attempted murder. What's more, the penalties that are imposed for attempted murder can be significantly lower than those imposed for actual murder.
Similar to the charges of murder, the charges of attempted murder are given in degrees. In other words, you can either be charged with first degree attempted murder or second degree attempted murder. While a first degree attempted murder will mean that the person involved premeditated the action and intentionally took steps to kill another person, a second degree attempted murder may indicate that the act was done out of passion, or in the process of carrying out a different felony.
If a conviction of first-degree attempted murder is successful, then the defendant may face a sentence of life in prison, as well as the possibility of the death sentence in some states, although it's worth noting that the death sentence is not likely to be given if there are no exaggerating factors in the case. In the first-degree attempted murder of a protected person in the performance of his or her duties, the minimum mandatory sentence is fifteen years, and the sentence overall may still be life imprisonment.
On the other hand, those who are charged with second degree attempted murder may be faced with five, seven, or nine years in a state prison. There's also the chance that additional penalties, such as a maximum fine of $10,000, mandatory victim restitution, and the loss of the right to own or possess a firearm may be imposed on someone who is convicted of attempted murder. These additional penalties may be imposed regardless of whether or not the person charged is convicted of second degree or first degree attempted murder. Sometimes, however, a good defense can allow for the sentence given to be shorter, or less severe, depending largely on the surrounding circumstances.