Attempted Murders, Charges, and Jail Time

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In 2021, more than 2.55 million violent crime cases occurred in the United States. These cases include murder, nonnegligent manslaughter, and aggravated assault.

Although there’s little data on how many attempted murders occurred that year, the number of violent crimes would likely spike had those attempts successfully taken lives.

What charges do you face if the prosecutor accuses you of attempted murder? What actions and intent make up an attempted murder in the U.S.?

Can you defend yourself if you’re accused of attempted murder? What defenses can you use? Should you rely on an attorney for your defense?

This article discusses the charges you can face if you’re convicted of attempted murder and explains what attempted murder is and the actions and intent that constitute this crime.

Additionally, this article explains how you can defend yourself if you’re facing attempted murder allegations and whether or not you should work with an attorney to help with your case.

Attempted murder is a serious crime that can land you in jail if you’re proven guilty. The penalties can vary by state and the circumstances surrounding the crime. If you’re accused of attempted murder, understanding what charges you can face and working with an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you build a defense.

Do you have a loved one imprisoned for attempted murder?’s convenient online search tool can help you search for that inmate’s location and jail records.

Punishments for Attempted Murder

Murder is the most serious crime with the most serious penalties. Likewise, attempted murder also has harsh punishments. Although the death penalty for murder cases is implemented in some states, attempted murder doesn’t have the same punishment.

Still, attempted murder is a felony offense that usually imposes a prison sentence of about half a murder conviction sentence.

Attempted murder can be a first- or second-degree offense, similar to murder.

An accused can get charged with first-degree attempted murder if they try to kill someone intentionally and with premeditation. On the other hand, the offender who acts in a fit of passion or without premeditation can be charged with second-degree attempted murder.

Depending on the degree of the crime, an attempted murder conviction can be punishable by a prison sentence. A first-degree attempted murder case can come with a life sentence with the possibility of parole.

Attempted Murder Sentence: What Is a Defendant Facing?

Attempted murder is a serious felony that can result in imprisonment and fines, depending on your case’s circumstances and the state where the crime took place.

The following sections explain what a defendant can face when convicted of attempted murder.

Do States Make a Distinction Between Attempted First-Degree and Second-Degree Murder?

Some states impose different penalties for attempted first- and second-degree murder.

For example, first-degree attempted murder penalties in Florida include fines of up to $10,000 and life imprisonment with or without parole. For second-degree attempted murder, penalties include up to $10,000 in fines, up to 15 years of jail time, and up to 15 years of probation.

Meanwhile, in California, you can face a life sentence in state prison with a possibility of parole for first-degree attempted murder or five, seven, or nine years for second-degree attempted murder. Other penalties for either degree include hefty fines, victim restitution, and loss of gun rights.

What if There’s No Distinction Between First-Degree Murder and Second-Degree Murder?

Other states don’t distinguish between attempted first- and second-degree murder. Instead, they implement a sentencing range for people convicted of this crime.

For example, attempted murder in Nevada is a category B felony unless the defendant uses poison. Category B felonies are punishable by imprisonment for 2 to 20 years.

What About Sentencing Enhancements?

Many states have sentencing enhancements for offenders who commit attempted murder under specific circumstances.

The circumstances that can enhance an attempted murder sentence include:

  • Having a deadly weapon or firearm
  • Discharging a firearm
  • Discharging a firearm and causing great bodily harm
  • Injuring a law enforcement personnel

Such enhancements can lead to an additional prison sentence of 10 to 20 years or more, depending on the state.

Can You Assert Self-Defense to Avoid a Conviction?

People accused of attempted murder often use self-defense as a legal defense to contest criminal charges. This defense can work if the accused can provide proof that:

  • They reasonably believed they were in imminent danger of physical harm
  • They believed force was necessary to stop the danger
  • They used a reasonable degree of force during those circumstances

Other murder defenses are available to challenge attempted murder charges and may succeed if these defenses can put reasonable doubt on the prosecutor’s case.

If you’re accused of attempted murder and need help strengthening your defense, consider working with an experienced criminal defense attorney to learn what defenses can help your case.

Long-Term Effects of an Attempted Murder Conviction

When you receive a prison sentence for an attempted murder conviction, your time behind bars can significantly impact your life. Even lesser sentences can have a lasting effect.

Such a sentence can put a dent in your criminal record for a long time, affecting your chances of landing jobs and causing landlords to run thorough background checks. You may also find it difficult to get housing or financing approval, and your family can get affected.

Understanding Attempted Murder Charges in the U.S.

States can vary in how they define an attempted murder.

Under Florida law, an individual can be accused of this crime if they commit, aid, or abet an intentional act that can but doesn’t cause death to the victim. Meanwhile, in Illinois, the state defines attempted murder as an unsuccessful attempt at killing someone.

Murder and Attempted Murder

In criminal law, murder is killing a person in a way that isn’t legally excusable or justified. This crime is different from manslaughter as murder requires malice aforethought.

Attempted murder is the failed or discontinued attempt to commit murder. A person attempting murder takes a direct step toward killing another and must have a specific intent to kill that person.

Legal Definition of Attempted Murder

Attempted murder can have varying legal definitions depending on the jurisdiction.

For example, California’s Penal Code Section 664 and 187 defines this crime as the attempted unlawful killing of another person or fetus with malice aforethought.

Meanwhile, the Illinois Criminal Code defines attempt as when the person intends to commit a specific offense and does any act constituting a significant step toward commissioning that offense.

The Action

To convict the accused of attempted murder, a prosecutor must show that the defendant took a direct step toward killing the targeted victim. A direct step means a person must go beyond preparing to commit the crime and instead cross over into actually perpetrating it. Actions constituting direct steps include:

  • Tracking, stalking, or ambushing
  • Luring or convincing the victim
  • Breaking into the victim’s property or home
  • Constructing or collecting murder materials
  • Soliciting or convincing someone to commit or perform a part of the crime

The Intention

You cannot accidentally commit attempted murder. Thus, if the prosecutor accuses you of such a crime, they must show evidence that you intended to kill and your intent is to kill a specific victim.

What’s the Difference Between First- and Second-Degree Attempted Murder?

Some states have drawn a distinct difference between first- and second-degree attempted murder. Examples of these differences include the following:

First-Degree Attempted Murder

In Florida, prosecutors can find you guilty of first-degree attempted murder if they’ve proven the following beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • Your acts of violence against the victim were premeditated
  • You knowingly and purposely committed acts to cause the alleged victim’s death

Second-Degree Attempted Murder

For the judge to convict you of second-degree attempted murder, the crime doesn’t have to be premeditated. Instead, the court must prove that you intended to murder the alleged victim.

For example, in Arizona, prosecutors must prove that you committed the crime by showing that you knowingly or intentionally attempted to cause the death of another person. Prosecutors must also prove that your reckless actions showed extreme indifference to human life.

Can Attempted Murder Be Defended?

Having a skillful and experienced criminal defense attorney can help improve your chances of having a solid defense when you’re accused of attempted murder.

Your lawyer can help get your attempted murder charges downgraded or even dismissed based on the circumstances of your case. You may face penalties you otherwise shouldn’t receive without a lawyer’s legal counsel to defend you.

Every case has unique circumstances, and your attorney will often consider those circumstances to create a reliable defense strategy.


If you’re accused of attempted murder, you must have a defense to counter those charges. If you have an attorney, consider the following defenses to help your case:

  • Insufficient evidence
  • Self-defense
  • Defense of others
  • False accusations
  • Pre-existing mental illness

Related Offenses for Attempted Murder

Other offenses that may be similar or related to attempted murder include the following:

  • Attempted voluntary manslaughter: Occurs when someone kills another person after being aroused by a provocation
  • Aggravated battery: Involves a physical act, usually in the form of inflicting serious injury, on another person to cause harm without that person’s consent
  • Drive-by shooting: Happens when someone in a moving vehicle shoots at a person, building, or another vehicle
  • Solicitation to commit murder: Occurs when a person encourages, commands, or requests another to commit murder
  • Assault with a deadly weapon: Happens when an individual attempts or attacks a person with an object that can inflict serious bodily injury or death

Statute of Limitations by State

A statute of limitations is a law specifying the period when a person must file a lawsuit. Also known as the prescriptive period in civil law systems, this statute sets the maximum time for a party to start legal proceedings from the date of an alleged civil or criminal offense.

As of February 2023, the statutes of limitations for the different U.S. states are as follows:

  • 10 years
  • 8 years
  • 6 years
  • 5 years
  • 4 years
  • 3 years

Why Do You Even Need an Attorney?

If you’re facing felony charges due to being accused of attempted murder, fighting legal battles alone can be challenging when you’re in court facing the prosecutors. Furthermore, if you’re unfamiliar with the law, you may find it difficult to defend yourself.

In such situations, you may need legal assistance through an attorney-client relationship to get you through the court process and have those charges dismissed or your sentence reduced.

Having a lawyer take care of your case gives you access to legal expertise and the appropriate defenses to help counter the allegations against you. Criminal defense lawyers can closely examine the facts and circumstances of your case and provide you with a strategy to help achieve the best possible outcome in your favor.

Only a skilled criminal defense attorney with years of courtroom experience and a deep understanding of the law, local courtroom procedures, and criminal investigations can give you sound legal advice.

Many law firms and criminal defense lawyers offer free consultations so that you can get valuable initial legal advice at no cost.


1. Number of committed crimes in the United States in 2021, by type of crime
2. Murder

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