| Read Time: 4 minutes

Attempted murder is one of the most serious crimes in California. Simply put, it means that someone tried to kill another person but failed to do so. An attempted murder accusation is a terrifying experience, causing immense emotional stress and raising critical questions about your future.

If you or someone you know faces charges under the California Penal Code section 664/187(a), understanding the legal implications of this offense and the potential defenses is crucial.

Today, the lawyers of the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, will define attempted murder in California, discuss legal defenses, and outline the potential consequences of a conviction. We will also provide tips on finding a qualified and experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you fight this charge.

What Is the Definition of Attempted Murder in California Law?

Penal Code section 664/187(a) combines two separate sections to define attempted murder. Section 664 deals with attempted crimes in general, while section 187 outlines the crime of murder. Merging these sections, attempted murder occurs when a person has an intention to kill another and takes a direct, but ineffectual, step toward that goal.

Intent to Kill

The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused had the specific intent to end the victim’s life. This goes beyond mere recklessness or wanting to inflict harm. In other words, it is not enough to intend to harm, injure, or scare the victim—to qualify as attempted murder, the accused must have had the intent to kill.

Takes a Direct Step

The accused must have taken a substantial step towards carrying out the killing, and that step must go beyond mere preparatory actions. The defendant must actually perform an action that would result in the victim’s death if not prevented or interrupted by some outside factor.

For example, pointing a loaded gun at someone would qualify, while simply buying a gun wouldn’t. Other examples of direct steps include shooting, stabbing, poisoning, or strangling the victim.

The Two Faces of Attempted Homicide: First-Degree Murder vs. Second-Degree Murder

California distinguishes between first-degree attempted murder and second-degree attempted murder.

  • First-Degree Murder. This level of charge applies when the intended murder would have been premeditated and deliberate, similar to first-degree murder under Penal Code section 187. Because planning and reflection are typically involved, this level of murder is more serious and has more severe potential consequences.
  • Second-Degree Murder. Covers all other attempted murder scenarios where there’s no evidence of premeditation and deliberation. The intent to kill exists, but instead of being planned, second-degree murder is impulsive or spontaneous.

Each charge of attempted murder has its own set of consequences. 

What Are the Consequences of an Attempted Murder Conviction?

The severity of an attempted murder sentence in California depends on the degree of the crime and the specific circumstances of the case. In general, the penalties for attempted murder in California are:

  • First Degree—Life imprisonment with the possibility of parole (minimum seven years); or
  • Second Degree—Imprisonment of 5, 7, or 9 years in state prison.

You could be subject to a fine of up to $10,000 in both instances. Additionally, a conviction of attempted murder is considered a strike under California’s Three Strikes Law. The Three Strikes Law can impact the sentence for any future sentences you might face.

If you have previous criminal convictions, especially for violent crimes, these convictions are “strikes,” and if you have three strikes, it could dramatically increase your sentence on the attempted murder charge. This is especially true if you used a firearm or caused injuries. Also, if the judge convicts you of this attempted murder charge, it counts as a strike for any future criminal sentence.

Penalties can also increase if there are mitigating or aggravating factors, including: 

  • The victim was a peace officer, firefighter, or other protected person;
  • Great bodily injury was inflicted; 
  • A firearm was used; or
  • The crime was gang-related.

In addition to criminal penalties, an attempted murder conviction can lead to severe collateral consequences such as housing and employment loss, revocation of gun rights, and damage to your reputation.

Potential Defenses to Attempted Murder Charges

Your lawyer can explore several legal defenses, depending on the specific circumstances of your case. Let’s look at some common defenses.

  • Lack of intent. The defendant lacked the specific intent to kill but rather may have intended only to harm, injure, or scare the victim.
  • Lack of a direct step. The accused didn’t take a substantial step toward killing. Instead, they merely planned or prepared.
  • Mistaken identity. The accused was wrongly identified and was not the person who attempted the killing.
  • Self-defense or defense of others. The accused acted out of a reasonable fear of imminent harm to themselves or another person.
  • Insanity. The accused was legally insane at the time, unable to understand their actions or know right from wrong.

An attorney can identify the most appropriate defense or defenses for your case. 

How to Find a Qualified and Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney?

Facing an attempted murder charge is a serious and complex matter that demands the expertise of a professional to safeguard your rights, interests, and future.

An excellent criminal defense attorney can help you by:

  • Reviewing the facts and evidence and identifying any weaknesses or errors in the prosecution’s case;
  • Explaining the law and the legal process to you and answering any questions or concerns you may have;
  • Conducting discovery and deposing essential witnesses;
  • Hiring any expert witnesses that are needed;
  • Negotiating with the prosecution to reduce or dismiss the charges or to obtain a favorable plea bargain;
  • Preparing a solid and effective defense strategy and presenting it at trial if one becomes necessary;
  • Challenging any unlawful or improper actions by the police, the prosecution, or the court; and
  • Advocating for your best interests while striving for the best outcome.

When you begin your search, ask family, friends, or acquaintances who may have dealt with similar cases or who might know of a reputable criminal defense attorney. Look for websites with profiles and reviews of attorneys in your area who specialize in criminal law.

When you identify a few attorneys, contact them to compare their qualifications, experience, fees, and communication styles. Then, you should have the information you need to choose an attorney with great qualifications, a great track record, and one with whom you feel comfortable.

Looking for Expert Attempted Murder Criminal Defense?

Do you need a qualified and experienced criminal defense attorney who can handle your attempted murder case? Look no further than the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC.

We are a nationally recognized criminal defense law firm with over 27 years of experience, including more than 100 jury trials. We have successfully defended hundreds of clients against all types of criminal charges, including attempted murder.

Our services extend to clients in San Diego County and its surrounding areas. We are committed to providing you with:

  • Compassionate and personalized legal representation,
  • Aggressive defense strategies tailored to your specific case, and
  • Free and confidential consultations.

We understand the stress and uncertainty that come with facing criminal charges, and we are dedicated to fighting for your rights and protecting your future. Contact us today to discuss your case. We are available 24/7 to answer your call. 

Where You Can Find Our San Diego Office

Author Photo

Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.

Rate this Post

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars