Attempted murder is a particularly difficult crime to prosecute, especially if you have a skilled defense attorney at your side. Even so, it’s not something you want to be charged with as you can face life imprisonment in some cases. But what about attempted burglary, or attempted rape? Everyone has heard of those charges, but how does the prosecution actually prove someone attempted to break the law if they didn’t manage to succeed? And what are the penalties for such crimes?
What is an Attempted Crime?
First, it’s important to realize that you can’t be charged with an “attempted” crime just because you said you wished something would happen or even that you wanted to do something. You must have intentionally made an actual attempt to commit a crime that was not completed. It doesn’t matter whether you changed your mind partway through or were caught before the crime was completed, if you had the intent to commit a crime and took some effort towards doing so, you can be charged with the attempted version of that crime under California Penal Code section 664.
How Does the Prosecution Prove Attempted Charges?
In order for a person to be convicted of attempting to commit a crime, the prosecution must be able to prove both legal elements of the crime: 1) that you had the specific intent to break the law and 2) that you actually took some step towards committing the offense. In other words, if you got hopped on someone else’s bike and started to ride away before you were stopped, you can’t be charged with attempted theft if you simply mixed up that person’s bicycle and your own. Additionally, if you wanted to steal someone’s bike, walked up to the bike, but then decided not to steal it before you took any step towards taking the bike, you are not guilty of attempted theft. If you didn’t intend to commit the crime or made no effort to actually do so, but have been charged with Penal Code section 664, be sure to share this information with your criminal attorney as it could make a huge difference in your case.
What is the Punishment for an Attempted Crime?
With the exception murder charges, the general rule is that a conviction for an attempt to commit a crime carries a sentence half as long as the actual crime. So if you were sentenced for an attempt to steal a bicycle and the prosecutor sought the maximum sentence, you could face up to three months in jail and a $500 fine, rather than the six months in jail and $1000 fine petty theft ordinarily carries.
If the charge was for homicide, but not first-degree murder, it’s important to recognize that the potential punishment for attempted murder in California is no longer than nine years in prison. On the other hand, if you are charged with attempted first degree murder, then you could face life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Often prosecutors offer an attempted crime charge when negotiating a plea bargain for a serious crime that is a strikeable offense, but even an attempt to commit a crime that is a strike will still leave you with a strike on your record under the three strikes law. This is another reason it is so important not to agree to any reduced sentencing without your criminal defense lawyer present.
In California, attempting to commit a crime may not be as bad as actually succeeding at a criminal act, but it is still a crime. If you have been accused of attempting to commit a crime, please call (760) 643-4050 to speak with Peter M. Liss.
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