Attempted Murder PC 664/187(a) 

Attempted murder refers to intent and action to kill another person, but failure to succeed in actually causing the death. If you’re facing this charge, it’s important to know what it means and explore your best path forward. An attorney can help you understand the case against you, evaluate possible defenses, understand the consequences you might face if convicted, and answer other questions.

How Does the California Penal Code Define Attempted Murder?

Attempted murder in California means you had the intention to kill, took an act towards killing, but your actions didn’t result in a completed murder. So, put bluntly, California Penal Code 664 applies to trying but failing to kill another person. To be convicted of this crime, the prosecution will have to prove two elements that are explained more below:

Intent to Kill

In California, attempted murder is a specific intent crime. That means that you can’t be convicted of attempted murder unless you had the intent to kill.

For example, imagine you are taking a walk outdoors and unintentionally bump another walker into oncoming traffic. You can’t be convicted of attempted murder. You had no malicious intent – rather, bumping into the other walker was an unintended accident. 

On the other hand, intent to kill doesn’t mean you had to intend to kill one particular person.

Using the same example, imagine on your walk to spot a group of friends standing on the sidewalk. With the intention to kill, you push the entire group of friends into traffic.

You don’t have to have one primary target in order to be charged with attempted murder. You pushed the group into the road intending to kill at least one person, which is sufficient for intent.

Kill Zone Theory

And, the intent requirement won’t always protect you from being convicted of attempted murder for someone who wasn’t your intended victim. California uses the “kill zone theory”, which means that the prosecution can sometimes infer that the defendant intended to kill everyone in the intended victim’s vicinity in order to make sure the victim was killed.

In our example, imagine that while you are on your walk, you see the same group of friends. One of those friends is your enemy, and you intend to kill them. You place a bomb at their feet, walk away, and detonate the bomb, intending to kill your enemy. The other friends standing in a group with your enemy would likely be considered in the “kill zone.” 

Direct Step

To be convicted of attempted murder, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you acted on a plan to murder the victim. A direct step is more than just daydreaming about committing a murder and even more than planning a murder. You have to have put the plan into motion.

For example, writing in your diary before your walk about pushing an enemy into oncoming traffic would not be a direct step. But pushing the enemy into traffic would.

What Must the Prosecution Show to Convict a Person of Attempted Murder?

When you are accused of any crime, especially one as serious as attempted murder, the prosecution must show that you must have committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.. The prosecution will need to prove that you had the specific intent to kill and that you acted on that intent with a direct step.


What Are the Best Defenses to Attempted Murder Charges?

California law allows for defendants to raise several types of defenses for attempted murder charges. But it may not be immediately apparent to you which defense gives you the best chance of success. The rest of this section will explore the available defenses. However, to choose the best route, you should speak with a criminal defense attorney about the specific facts of your case.

No Specific Intent to Kill

As discussed above, attempted murder is a specific intent crime. That sets it apart from many other crimes in California. As such, the prosecution has to prove you intended to kill. Your attorney may argue on your behalf that you intended only to scare someone (which could be assault) or that you only attempted to hurt them. If the prosecution can’t show that you intended to kill the victim, you can’t be convicted.

For example, imagine you were taking a walk and saw your enemy. You decide to push them down in the mud to embarrass them. But, when you push them, they accidentally roll into traffic. You would raise the defense that you didn’t intend to kill them.

No Direct Step

In other cases, you may be able to prove that you took no direct step toward attempting to take another person’s life. This might depend on when you were caught.

For example, imagine that you carefully plan out a murder. You decide the murder will take place on your walk this afternoon, you pick out a weapon, and you write about it in your journal. You decide you will kill the first person that you see on your walk. However,  before you leave from your walk, you are arrested. You would likely raise the defense that you haven’t taken a direct step toward the murder. 


If someone intends to harm you, you may have taken harsh measures to protect yourself from bodily harm. For example, someone may have threatened your life with a deadly weapon, and you may have responded in any way that led to an arrest for attempted murder.

Proving self-defense can help you avoid severe penalties that significantly impact your life. Talk to your attorney about proving you were acting in self-defense and would not have harmed another person in any other situation.

Misidentification or False Accusation

Some cases of attempted murder charges are simply cases of mistaken identity. You may have been wrongfully pointed to as the person who committed and attempted murder because you look similar. In sudden violent attacks, the victim may not have gotten a good look at their attacker.

In these cases, you may have been close to the crime scene and picked up by a police officer. Then, you were wrongfully identified by a victim who has just been through a traumatic event and may not have the clearest memory of who harmed them.

Similarly, in some cases, you may have simply been falsely accused of the crime. Talk to your lawyer about proving you could not have been the person involved in the crime either because you were misidentified or falsely accused.

What Is the Sentence for PC 664/187?


The sentencing for attempted murder depends on whether you are charged and convicted of first-degree or second-degree attempted murder.

Attempted First-Degree Murder

Attempted first-degree murder carries a sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole. In California, attempted first-degree murder includes any cases where you are accused of acting deliberately and with a specific plan to commit murder. If the victim is an on-duty firefighter or police officer, the availability of parole may be limited to after you have served 15 years.

Attempted Second-Degree Murder

While attempted first-degree murder includes premeditation, or will to commit murder, and a plan carried out in at least a few steps, attempted second-degree murder covers any other attempted murder cases that do not fall entirely within this definition.

The crime may not have been premeditated, such as crimes committed in the heat of passion.

Attempted second-degree murder convictions come with a much less severe sentence. In a second-degree attempted murder sentence, you may face up to nine years in prison.

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California’s Three Strikes Law

California’s three strikes law means that if you commit multiple violent felonies, your prison sentence could be enhanced. Attempted murder is a violent felony. As such, it will count as a “strike.” If the attempted murder is your second strike, your sentence will likely be doubled. A third strike could push your sentence up to 25 years or even a life sentence, depending on the circumstances.

If you’ve already got a criminal record, it’s especially important to speak with an attorney about how new charges might impact you.

Additional Penalties

We typically think of prison time when we think of criminal charges and sentencing. However, additional penalties may be applied to your case. You may lose your right to own a gun, for example, or face up to $10,000 in fines.

You may also be required to provide victim restitution. Victims of a violent felony may be due compensation for their suffering.

Other additional penalties will depend on the specifics of your charges. For example, gang-related attempted murder includes an extra fifteen years to life in prison. Using a gun for attempted murder can also come with enhanced penalties, including a much longer sentence in prison. If you are not a citizen of the United States, you may even face deportation if you are convicted of attempted murder.

Crimes That Can Be Charged Along with Attempted Murder


When you are charged under California’s Penal Code 187 or Penal Code 664, you may also be facing other charges related to the same events that caused the attempted murder charge.

Shooting at an Inhabited Dwelling or Occupied Car

If you are charged with shooting at a house or car with people inside, it’s common to also be charged with attempted murder. That’s because shooting at an occupied house or car might indicate to prosecutors that you had the intent to kill someone inside. Similarly, you could also be charged with a drive-by shooting.


Torture is the infliction of bodily harm to another person to cause extreme pain and suffering. Often, in cases where torture is involved, the intent is eventually to commit murder. Because of this, if you are accused of torture, attempted murder may also be part of the charges.

These charges may be included because there is a fine line between causing extreme pain to another person and attempting to kill them.

Attempted Voluntary Manslaughter

In cases where you did not deliberately attempt to murder another person, you may claim that the incident happened in the heat of passion. In these cases, you may have the opportunity to reduce your charges to attempted voluntary manslaughter.

In cases where you may not be able to have your charges ultimately dismissed, you could still get your sentence reduced. For example, attempted voluntary manslaughter has a maximum prison sentence of five years and six months. That means your penalties may be cut in half or even shorter if you get your charges reduced to attempted voluntary manslaughter rather than attempted murder.

California’s Domestic Violence Offenses

In some circumstances, attempted murder can happen during a domestic violence situation. During a heated interaction, one spouse may attempt to kill the other. This could lead to domestic violence charges or attempted murder.

Aggravated Battery

Aggravated battery includes the act of causing serious physical harm to another person. If the damage is severe enough, it can come close to killing them. Remember that this is a wobbler crime, which may be filed as a felony or misdemeanor. The details of your case will impact the severity of the charges.

Assault with a Deadly Weapon

Assault with a deadly weapon is defined as a threat to commit serious bodily harm with a deadly weapon. These weapons include anything inherently dangerous or potentially harmful, excluding loaded firearms. Firearms are a separate, more serious crime.

In some cases, you may be accused of attempted murder but may be able to reduce these charges to assault with a deadly weapon if you can prove that you may have only threatened harm and that you did not complete that threat. However, if the alleged victim claims you threatened them before attempting murder, your charges may be compounded, and you may face harsher penalties.

Soliciting Someone to Commit a Crime

You may have asked someone to commit violence against someone else to scare, harm, or even kill them. Even if you didn’t directly attempt the murder, asking another person to attempt murder is still a felony.

Attempted Aiding a Suicide

In some cases, a suicidal loved one may have asked you for help in ending their life. That may include supplying them with guns or poison to help them commit suicide. The line between attempted murder and aiding a suicide can be blurry, so proving specific details about your case is vital because attempted aiding a suicide is a much lighter felony penalty.


Talk with a Lawyer When Charged with Attempted Murder 

Attempted murder is one of the most severe charges you can face, and in some cases, it can lead to a lifetime in prison.

Solicitation of a criminal defense attorney serving residents of San Diego can help you overcome your charges and get your life back on track. Our law firm, Elite Criminal Defense, aims to provide the support you need when charged with causing great bodily injury or attempted murder.

If you need help, our lawyers are just a phone call away. Reach out by calling 619-642-2310 or filling out our online contact form.

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Attempted Murder FAQ 

If you are accused of attempted murder, you need answers as soon as possible. Unfortunately, attempted murder charges can be complex and difficult to parse. 

To get the answers you need, contact an attorney for the guidance you seek. While you are waiting for your consultation, read on to learn more about some of the general questions we answer for those seeking an attorney.

What is a 664/187 charge?

California Penal Code 664/187 combines statutes in the Penal Code that define and guide prosecution in cases of attempted murder. These parts of the code define murder, state the laws surrounding attempted crimes, and outline how these offenses may be penalized. 

Is PC 664 a felony or misdemeanor?

PC 664 is not necessarily a felony or misdemeanor, so much as it refers to how the law can penalize attempted crimes, even if they are not committed. For example, attempted murder is a felony, but other attempted crimes may not be. Your lawyer can dig deeper into details about the specific crimes you were facing and how you can defend yourself.

What is a PC 664 charge?

PC 664 specifically refers to the part of the California Penal Code that states that any attempt to commit a crime that fails can still be punished by law through precisions made about the specific crime.

What charge is PC 187A?

Penal Code 187A refers specifically to the crime of murder. It defines murder as the unlawful killing of a human being, including fetuses, which sets the standard for both murder charges and what counts as attempted murder. 

What is the difference between PC 664 and PC 187A?

California Penal Code 664 states that anyone who attempts to commit a crime but fails or is stopped can still face penalties for the crimes they attempted to commit. Penal code 187A however, refers specifically to the definition of murder. 

These two sections of the Penal Code refer to different topics, but when read together, they say that attempted murder can still be penalized in the illegal system, even if the individual attempting to commit murder failed.

What is attempted murder?

Attempted murder is any situation where you are accused of taking direct steps with the intent to take the life of another person. While these steps might have failed, you may still face harsh penalties for attempting to take another person’s life.

How many years do you get for attempted murder?

The specific amount of years you face for attempted murder depends on the details of your claim case. For example, for certain second-degree attempted murder charges, you may face five years in prison. In a worst-case scenario, however, you could face life imprisonment. For example, if your claim is affected by the three-strikes rule, you may face twenty-five years to life imprisonment. 

Consequences could include a prison sentence, fines, and potentially victim restitution. If you are concerned about your future and the possibility of a hefty sentence, contact an attorney for guidance.

Are there different degrees of attempted murder?

Attempted murder can cover first and second-degree attempted murder. Attempted first-degree murder includes cases with deliberate, willful, malicious intent to commit murder. This charge is more severe than second-degree murder.

Can you remove attempted murder charges from your criminal record?

While expungement is possible, it can be challenging to meet the requirements for removal of charges from your criminal record. Specific requirements have to be met, such as a pardon, but because attempted murder is a violent felony, you may not have that option.

In many cases, it is better to defend your case now and avoid the conviction, rather than trying to remove them from your record later.

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