A charge of attempt to commit murder or attempt to commit manslaughter is a serious charge, and courts and prosecutors see them as heinous acts. Although the elements of an attempt to commit murder/manslaughter appear to be straightforward, some issues of an attempted murder charge may lead to a dismissal or result in a lesser offense or penalty.
It is crucial that you are represented by a criminal defense lawyer, who can help you navigate through the process, help you understand the elements of the alleged offense, and protect your rights throughout the process.
We assist our clients during investigations and criminal proceedings to defend your rights, lessen your charge, or reduce your punishment. If you have been charged with attempt to commit murder or manslaughter, consult one of our expert attorneys.
What is an “Attempt to Commit Murder/Manslaughter?”
Attempt to commit murder is the incomplete, unsuccessful act of killing, where the act is intended to kill a person. Attempted murder involves the intent to kill. Attempt to commit manslaughter is similar, but does not include an intent to kill.
Manslaughter is usually committed through an act of negligence or recklessness. An attempt is defined as any act that is directly done in furtherance of an intent to kill is a direct step.
A mere preparation or plan to kill is insufficient to satisfy the elements of attempted murder or manslaughter.
Let’s take a deeper look into murder and manslaughter.
What Is The Difference Between “Homicide,” “Murder” and “Manslaughter?”
The terms “homicide,” “murder,” “and “manslaughter” can often be confusing.
They all result in one person killing another, but the common law developed different levels, or degrees, of killings. Homicide is simply the killing of one person by another. It may or may not be illegal.
Consider soldiers who commit homicide on the battlefield or homeowners who commit homicide when a burglar enters into the homeowner’s home. There are legal separations between killings. These separations are murder and manslaughter.
Title 18 of the United States Code governs federal criminal conduct. Specifically, Sections 1111 and 1112 provide the elements for and prohibition of an attempt to commit murder or manslaughter.
The elements of a murder charge are:
- The unlawful killing;
- Of another;
- With malice aforethought.
Murder is the killing of another that is planned and deliberate. This means the person who committed the murder acted with the intent to kill. Murder is typically characterized into degrees of severity.
First-degree murder punishes premeditated killings, unintended killings during the commission of another serious felon, and felony murders. This usually involves premeditation on the part of the murderer. Premeditation is any plan or design to cause death before the act of the killing occurred.
Murder also includes felony murder. Felony murder is a subset of first-degree murder. It punishes people who did not intend to kill, or even those who did not commit the killing, but were participants in the commission of a felony and that felony caused someone’s death.
Common examples of people who can be charged with felony murder include the following:
- the getaway driver in a convenience store robbery where one robber shoots the clerk;
- a burglar who inadvertently threatens or scares the homeowner so severely it resulted in the homeowner death from a heart attack; or
- a surviving co-conspirator of a robbery of a corner store where the clerk shoots and kills the other co-conspirator.
The standard for charging a person with felony murder isn’t whether the charged co-conspirator actually committed the murder or had actual knowledge of other co-conspirators’ intentions to harm or kill anyone. Rather, the standard is whether it was foreseeable that someone might have been killed during the commission of the crime.
Felonies include acts such as:
- aggravated assault,
- aggravated battery,
- fraud, and
Any other murder is murder in the second degree.
Second-degree murder involves all intentional killings that are not premeditated or killings that resulted from conduct so reckless it showed a grave indifference to human life and welfare of others.
The elements of a manslaughter charge are:
- The unlawful killing;
- Of a human being;
- Without malice.
Manslaughter is typically treated as a much less severe crime than murder. It is committed without malice, otherwise known as intent, although there may be an intention to cause harm. Manslaughter is usually broken up into two categories: voluntary and involuntary.
Voluntary manslaughter is the killing of another person during an unlawful act. The person may be under extreme provocation or under a heat of passion. An easy example of this is when a wife murders her husband when she walks in on him committing adultery with another woman.
The wife’s murder was committed under the heat of passion—witnessing the act of betrayal by the husband—and not because of her desired intent to kill her husband. Another easy example is when a person fires their gun carelessly in public and unintentionally shoots a bystander.
Voluntary manslaughter does not require an intent to kill, but rather than the intent to do something else. Felony manslaughter occurs when a person participates in a crime that is not listed in the felony murder statute but somehow results in the death of someone during the commission of the crime.
Involuntary manslaughter occurs during acts of criminal negligence or recklessness that leads to another person’s death. The death occurred as the result of a person’s act or failure to act that showed a wanton or reckless disregard for the lives of others.
You can think of this as when a person drives a vehicle under the influence of either alcohol or drug and causes the death of another person. The intoxicated driver did not have the intent to kill someone, but another person died because of their recklessness of driving while intoxicated.
The prosecutors need to prove the elements of these crimes against you “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
What Are The Penalties For “Attempt to Commit Murder” or “Manslaughter?”
Title 18 of the United States Code Section 1113 provides the penalties for a conviction of attempt to commit murder or manslaughter. The penalties for an attempted murder include a maximum of twenty years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, or both. The penalties for attempted manslaughter include a maximum of seven years imprisonment, a fine, or both.
Additional penalties may also result from a conviction of attempt to commit murder or manslaughter. After serving a term of imprisonment, you may face up to five years of supervised release.  You may also be ordered to pay $100 to the Federal Crime Victims Unit. Federal law also provides for restitution to be paid to the victims you harmed.
Other consequences of a conviction or charge include a bar of your professional license, loss of time during the investigation, procedure, and trial, loss of family, loss or tarnish of personal and/or reputation, inability to find employment, inability to secure housing, and deportation after serving term imprisonment.
Who Investigates and Prosecutes Charges of Attempted Murder/Manslaughter?
Several governmental agencies and departments are involved in the investigation and prosecution of an attempt to commit murder/manslaughter.
These include, but are not limited to:
- The Federal Bureau of Investigations (“FBI”) – Joint Organized Crime Task Force;
- The Department of Justice (“DOJ”) – U.S. Attorneys Office;
- Homeland Security Investigations;
- Various task forces around the country handling gang violence;
- The Bureau of Indian Affairs (“BIA”) – Office of Justice Services (“OJS”);
- Departments of Public Safety from various native tribes;
- Local state, municipal, and port law enforcement.
Generally, the DOJ is tasked with prosecuting these crimes through the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices around the nation. Federal prosecutors also work with state prosecutors to bring charges, when needed.
How Can You Defend Yourself Against a Charge of Attempt to Commit Murder/Manslaughter?
Choosing the right criminal defense attorney can make all the difference.
Our attorneys provide criminal defense to clients charged with attempted murder or manslaughter offenses. Our mission is to help you avoid criminal charges, protect your rights, deter the investigation of you, establish a winning defense, and to protect your career and reputation.
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
Federal prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime they allege. This means that prosecutors must provide evidence that leaves no alternative logical explanation other than you committed the crime.
Procedural and Evidentiary Defenses
Defenses include procedural strategies as well as evidentiary defenses.
- Procedural. Procedural strategies include the statute of limitations defense, statutory loopholes and exceptions, and negotiating plea deals or reducing the charge against you or lessening your punishment.
- Evidentiary. Evidentiary defenses will target the elements of the crime, all of which need to be proved by the prosecution. This is the best line of defense against your charges. The first would be to prove that you had no plan or did not act to murder another person. The second defense would be to prove that you have no intent to kill.
Defenses Against Attempt to Commit Murder
An “affirmative defense” proven by you defeats or lessens the legal consequences of otherwise unlawful conduct. There are several affirmative defenses.
Self-defense or defense of others is commonly known as a justifiable homicide. This defense entitles you to use reasonable force to protect yourself or another person against a threat of serious injury or death if you reasonably believe that you are about to suffer imminent bodily harm. If deadly force is used against you, you are allowed to respond with deadly force. In such a situation, you have no obligation to retreat but may stand your ground.
The Castle Doctrine
The Castle Doctrine also justifies homicide by a property owner as a “defense of habitation.” The Castle Doctrine is a common-law legal concept that designates a person’s home or property as a place in which that person has certain protections to use deadly force to defend against an intruder in an intentional, violent, and surprise invasion.
You can also raise an insanity defense. Under federal law, you are considered legally insane if you either did not understand the nature of your criminal act or did not understand your actions were morally wrong. This is commonly referred to as the “M’Naughten Rule” after a famous British case in 1843. If you can prove you were legally insane at the time you attempted to commit murder, you cannot be convicted.
Defenses Against Attempt to Commit Manslaughter
You can also defend against attempted murder charges if you can equivocally show you abandoned your plan to commit to murder, so long as you did not take a direct step towards completing the crime. Abandonment is a complete defense against charges of attempted murder.
Our attorneys can also attempt to reduce “attempted murder” to “attempted manslaughter.” To reduce this charge, you need to prove you had no bad intent to commit murder or cause injury.
You can also effectuate a reduction in charge by proving you were provoked to commit an act you otherwise would not have done or if you genuinely believed you were in imminent danger.
“Attempted Murder/Manslaughter” in the News
Porcupine Man Indicted for Murder
Charge: Attempted Murder, Assault with a Deadly Weapon, Assault Resulting in Serious Bodily Injury, and Discharge of a Firearm During the Commission of a Crime of Violence.
Allegation: Defendant attempted to commit murder with a firearm.
On April 20, 2017, Kison Robertson was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of using a firearm in the attempted murder of a male on March 30, 2017, in Porcupine, South Dakota. Robertson also used the firearm to assault the male and the male’s son, which resulted in serious bodily injury to the male victim. Robertson has been remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service while he awaited trial.
Robertson faces a maximum penalty upon conviction of life imprisonment and/or a $250,000 fine. Additionally, he faces up to five years of supervised release and a $100 fine to the Federal Crime Victims Fund. Lastly, the judge may order restitution.
Organized Crime Associate Pleads Guilty to Attempted Murder
Charge: Attempt to Commit Murder, Conspiracy to Commit Murder
Allegation: Defendant and other mafia members conspired and attempted to kill a member of a rival mafia family.
DOJ announced on September 14, 2018, that Vincent Bruno pled guilty to charges of attempting to kill and conspiring to kill a member of a rival family. Bruno also pled guilty to racketeering and crimes against the United States. He faces penalties of up to fifteen years in prison and will be sentenced in federal court later in 2019.
In 2012, armed members of the Bonanno Family of La Cosa Nostra forced their way into a Bronx social club controlled by the Luchese Family. A confrontation ensued between the rival families. A member of the Bonanno group acted out towards a leader of the Luchese Family, to which the leader took offense as a personal affront. The leader ordered his son to have this Bonanno member killed. The son passed the order to Paul Cassano, Jr. and Bruno. The next night, Bruno and Cassano, armed with a gun, attempted to find the offending member in order to kill him but failed in their attempt. Cassano pled guilty to this and the other charges listed above in 2017. Bruno later followed suit.
MS-13 Gang Member Sentenced to 25 Years in Prison for Murder and Attempted Murder on Long Island
Charge: Murder and Attempted Murder
Allegation: Defendant and co-conspirators murdered fellow gang member and attempted to murder a member of a rival gang.
On December 18, 2018, Elmer Alexander Lopez, a member of the Centrales Locos Salvatruchas clique of La Mara Salvatrucha, more commonly known as the “MS-13 gang,” was sentenced in federal court to 25 years’ imprisonment for racketeering charges relating to his participation of the June 3, 2016, murder of Jose Pena and the July 3, 2016, attempted murder of John Doe #4, a member in the rival gang, the Goon Squad.
Lopez and several MS-13 co-conspirators decided to kill Pena, who was also a fellow MS-13 gang member, because they suspected him of cooperating with law enforcement after his arrest (a violation of gang rules), and because they suspected Pena of being a homosexual. On June 3, 2016, Lopez and co-conspirators lured Pena into a car, drove him to a secluded wooded area, and began taking turns stabbing and slashing Pena with a knife until he died. Pena’s body was not discovered for more than four months.
On July 3, 2016, Lopez and other gang members attempted to kill a suspected member of the Goon Squad, a local rival gang in Brentwood, while the suspect, known in the court filings as “John Doe #4”, was playing basketball. One of the MS-13 gang members shot at the basketball group, striking John Doe #4 in the shoulder. John Doe #4 was treated for his wound and survived the attack.
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