What is Attempted Homicide?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 11 March 2020
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Attempted homicide is a criminal act where someone tries to kill another human being. Various jurisdictions handle this charge in different ways, and there is no universal definition. It may also be known as attempted murder, depending on how the criminal code is drafted. Penalties can include prison time, fines, and liability for civil suits if it is possible for someone, usually the victim, to claim damages related to the act.

In some regions, an attempted homicide charge can only be used when someone engages in physical activity with the intent to kill, such as firing a gun at someone or engaging in a severe beating. These cases involve situations where it is clear the defendant would have killed the victim if given a chance to do so, but was either interrupted or unable to complete the crime for other reasons. This is a fairly strict definition of attempted homicide.

Other definitions include situations where people were clearly planning a murder and had a target in mind, even if they didn't physically assault the victim. People who purchase supplies for a murder, discuss their plans with other parties in a conspiracy, and engage in similar activities can be liable for attempted homicide in some jurisdictions. This looser definition can be slightly more challenging to prove, as people may be able to come up with alibis for the suspicious behavior and use these as defenses.


In order to prove a charge of attempted homicide, the prosecutor must be able to show that the defendant knowingly committed the action with the intent to kill. If the defendant cannot be clearly linked to the situation, there are doubts about whether the defendant knew what she was doing, or the defendant had no intent to kill, the charges cannot stick. It is possible the charges may be downgraded to charges like assault or battery, depending on the circumstances.

Most jurisdictions distinguish between homicide, involving malicious intent, and manslaughter, where a person is killed but the death was accidental. A person who guns a car engine and runs someone down in a parking lot can be convicted of homicide, while another person who accidentally applies the gas instead of the brake and hits someone in the process would be brought up on charges of manslaughter. Since manslaughter is usually considered an unfortunate accident, the concept of “attempted manslaughter” is not used in very many jurisdictions.


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Post 4

How long is the imprisonment?

Post 3

@miriam98 - I don’t think that we’ve become too hypersensitive at all. After all we still had aggravated assault charges on the books, well before the terrorist attacks.

I agree that it can be a fine line but it depends, like so many things, on context. If it’s a hostile exchange between two people who are obviously not buddies, and there is something at stake with a palpable threat being made, I think it’s a no-brainer to make a case for an aggravated assault charge.

I’ve heard of those extreme cases where a kid brings a toy gun to school and whips it about, or posts something stupid on his Facebook page and gets called out or suspended.

I think that’s the hysteria you’re referring to; but in most cases, the courts just dismiss the charges out of hand because they obviously don’t merit classification as crimes.

Post 2

@Charred - You bring up an excellent point. As to your first question about the distinction between terrorist plots and attempted homicide, I think lawyers would say that they’re apples and oranges, since we don’t treat terrorist plots as criminal activities in the usual sense of the term.

But the principle is the same; a plot is a plot, and you can certainly be convicted of a crime simply by showing intent.

That’s the part that concerns me, however. I think that in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the United States, we have become a little too loose in our definitions of intent. Words that used to mean nothing, like, “If you do that again, I’ll kill you!” suddenly ring of criminal intent, even though they are just meant as hyperbole.

I think it’s obvious we need to be more careful about how we speak; I just hope common sense still prevails in the judicial system.

Post 1

How does attempted homicide differ from a terrorist plot? For that matter, at what point can someone be truly liable for attempted murder charges simply on the basis of intent, since “intent to kill” seems to be the operative phrase in the legal sense?

I bring this up because I remember watching the movie “Minority Report,” where these psychics were used by law enforcement to predict “future crimes.” As a result, the city (I believe it was Washington, DC) had a remarkably high success rate in reducing crime.

The movie presented its ideas about future crimes as if it was something new, but we do prosecute people for terrorist plots or attempted murder, so I never understood what the real difference was; of course, we don’t have the benefit of precognition, I suppose it all comes down to that.

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