Murder is a serious crime that carries maximum punishment according to Illinois state law. An attempt to murder another person is also taken seriously by the law and carries a similarly harsh prison sentence.
Attempted murder is defined as an unsuccessful attempt at killing someone. While the offense may seem straightforward, there are some issues and technical grounds for the dismissal of attempted murder charges or reducing the severity of the penalty.
In order to understand attempted murder in detail, we must first understand the different degrees of murder.
Degrees of Murder
First-degree is the most serious homicide crime. First-degree murder takes place when it is proved that the defendant had the intention to kill another person, knew his or her actions would cause the death of another person, and premeditated the murder by planning ahead.
Second-degree murder takes place when it is proved that the defendant had the intention of killing another person and knew that his or her actions would cause the death of the person. Second-degree murder is slightly different in that there is no premeditated planning or forethought to the murder.
Voluntary manslaughter takes place when it is proved that a person killed another person due to mental disturbance or an emotionally unstable mindset which was caused by the actions of the victim.
Involuntary manslaughter takes place when it is proved that the defendant acted in a way that caused the death of another person but did not have the intention of killing that person.
The four degrees of murder are slightly different from each other and as such, the legislation and punishment surrounding each one is also slightly different.
Illinois State Legislation
Attempted murder is defined by ILCS 720 5/8-4. A person commits attempted murder when they take steps to kill someone with the intention of killing them. The law further clarifies that a defense cannot be used where circumstances would have made it impossible to commit the murder.
Attempted murder is a serious offense with a sentence of a Class X felony. The minimum prison sentence for a Class X felony is 20 years. Furthermore, the use of a firearm when attempting to commit a first-degree murder adds additional years to the sentence.
If the defendant is found to have been armed with a firearm while attempting murder, it adds 15 years to the prison term. If a person discharges a firearm while attempting murder, it adds 20 years to the prison term. If a person attempting murder discharges a firearm that causes great bodily harm to another person, it adds 25 years to the prison term.
There are three important factors to consider in attempted murder cases.
- Intention to kill.
- Awareness that actions would lead to the death of another person.
- Premeditated Planning.
Intent takes an important role in an attempted murder trial. If the defense can prove that the defendant did not have the intention of killing another person, despite having caused bodily harm, it may be possible to dismiss the whole case or reduce the sentencing to manslaughter.
Preplanning the murder raises the severity of the crime. An act to commit murder due to a highly enraged or disturbed emotional state is one thing. Having planned to do so beforehand is another.
For example, consider an example where Jack comes home and finds his wife Jill, in bed with a stranger John. Jack becomes enraged and shoots John. John survives but receives a grievous bodily injury.
In this case, the court will consider the circumstances of the case. The prosecution is likely to charge Jack with voluntary manslaughter.
Examples of Charges and Convictions
In February 2018, a man from Springfield, IL was charged with attempted murder for fleeing a traffic light and dragging along two marshals, who were hanging onto his vehicle.
The State Attorney stated that Collins was charged with attempted murder because he tried to swerve his vehicle into a guardrail while a marshal was hanging on, trying to get him to stop. The man has also been charged with resisting arrest and aggravated fleeing.
The vehicle did not hit the guardrail and no one was injured.
Collins was wanted on an arrest warrant, which was issued one day prior, for manufacturing and delivering illegal substances.
In a different case, a man from Quincy was convicted of first-degree attempted murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison. The man had stabbed a woman last October before the police responded to a call for help and found her on the front porch of her neighbor’s house with stab wounds to her neck and shoulder.
When Brandon was arrested, he had admitted to the stabbing. He even told the officers that he intended to kill the woman and to “write that down”.
The prosecution had built a strong case and used the defendant’s own admission of attempted murder in the court. They had asked for a 25-year prison sentence.
The defense was able to get the victim to come forward and ask for leniency from the court. In a statement, she noted that Brandon was a good man and she didn’t want him to spend the rest of his life in jail.
The defendant also read a brief statement in court expressing regret and stated that he did not intend to kill the woman.
Brandon must serve 17 years in prison before he can be eligible for parole.
Possible Legal Defenses
Attempted first-degree murder is a pretty serious charge which carries a life sentence. The use of a firearm adds more years to the final punishment.
However, attempted murder does not actually result in the loss of life like murder, which may make it easier for the defendant to get a lighter sentence. The three avenues open for defense are to disprove intent, awareness of actions, or pre-planning of the attempted murder.
The defendant also has the option to go with a plea bargain, but the prosecution usually has all the cards in attempted murder trials. It could be difficult to get a plea bargain in exchange for a reduced sentence.
Still, the circumstances around each case are different. A good legal defense team would consider the merits of individual cases and then provide the client with the best possible course of defense.