What Are the Penalties in California for Attempted Murder?

If you are facing an attempted murder sentence in California, the best first step is to seek competent legal counsel as soon as possible. The seriousness of attempted murder charges is second only to a charge for murder. If convicted of attempted murder, the severity of your sentence is typically not as long as a first-, second-, or third-degree murder conviction. However, an attempted murder charge and conviction are still grave.

What Defines Murder and Attempted Murder?

attempted murder california sentence

Attempted murder is defined by the California Penal Code 664 as “willful, deliberate, and premeditated” murder that was unsuccessful; that is, if a perpetrator intended to take a life, but the individual survived. 

Murder is the willful killing of a person or fetus with malicious intent and forethought. A murder charge has differing degrees, and thus, attempted murder can be split into degrees as well.

Let’s first discuss the degrees of murder as defined by California. In California, first-degree murder is when all the following are present: premeditation, a plan, malicious intent, and lying in wait or using any device or vehicle with the intent to kill another person or fetus. 

Second-degree murder in California is all other types of murder, which can include killings with premeditation, lacking premeditation but with intent to kill present, and/or no proof that the perpetrator (or defendant) reflected upon the seriousness of their actions.

What Is the Sentence for Attempted Murder in California?

According to the California Penal Code 664, the sentence for an attempted crime that was unsuccessful to the defendant’s intent is typically time served in a county jail or state prison for half the prescribed time for the completed crime. 

However, an attempted murder sentence in California does not follow this “half the sentence” penalty. So, how many years on their sentence does a defendant in California get in prison for attempted murder charges? Penal Code 664 states that the defendant charged shall be in state prison for life with the possibility of parole.

A criminal defense attorney in California can help protect your rights and ensure that you receive a fair trial.

Securing a Conviction

In order for a defendant to be punished in this way for attempted murder, in other words, to be convicted and stuck with a life sentence, the prosecution must prove several things. The prosecution must prove that there was both intent to kill and what is known as a “direct step” to complete the murder taken by the defendant.

Proving that these two factors were present in the defendant’s case is the only way for the prosecution to secure a conviction for attempted murder in California.


How can the prosecution prove intent? If you are accused of attempted murder and a search warrant reveals certain evidence, intent can be proven. This evidence includes (but is not limited to):

  • Written plans
  • Emails
  • Text messages
  • Gathering supplies

Direct Step

The prosecution also needs to prove the defendant took a “direct step;” this can be anything from firing a shot, taking a swing with a bladed weapon, using a garrote, or even simply drawing a weapon close to that specific person.

What Does “With the Possibility of Parole” Mean?

Suppose you are facing an attempted murder charge in California. In that case, the only difference between an attempted murder charge and a murder conviction is that you serve life in prison with the possibility of parole, not without it. 

So, what exactly does that mean, a life sentence with the possibility of parole? It means that you are definitely not guaranteed parole; in fact, the conversation of you getting parole may never occur. However, the likelihood of having a parole hearing still exists. 

For example, suppose your sentence is 15 years to life (which we will discuss below). In that case, it is typical that after 15 years in prison, you may have the opportunity to meet with a parole board to discuss release from prison under the strict supervision of a parole officer. 

However, life with the possibility of parole is very vague. You could spend your entire sentence (5, 7, 9, 15 years, or life) without coming before a parole board.

How Many Years Would You Potentially Serve if You Have the Possibility of Parole?

Possibility of Parole

How many years for attempted murder charges in California depends on your sentence, and California only recognizes these two degrees of murder or attempted murder. 

Attempted First-Degree Murder

If your sentence is for attempted first-degree murder in California, you will receive a life sentence with the possibility of parole. 

If that murder attempt was against a law enforcement officer or a fireman on duty, then your sentence changes to a mandatory 15 years before parole is even on the table. 

In other words, you could be eligible for parole before you’ve spent 15 years in prison if convicted of attempted murder of someone who was not law enforcement or a fireman. But if the murder attempt was against one of these professionals, 15 years without parole is guaranteed.

Attempted Second-Degree Murder

As for penalties for a conviction of attempted second-degree murder, California has mandatory 5-, 7-, or 9-year sentences (and longer in some cases). In other words, the eligibility for parole (if offered at all) will not be possible until you have completed those sentences.

Attempted second-degree murder was not premeditated or deliberate, differentiating it from attempted first-degree murder. 

California second-degree attempted murder charges can also carry a 15-year sentence length, especially under certain circumstances. These can include bar fights that result in serious injury or shooting a gun into a crowded room in the heat of the moment.


Parole is a prisoner’s supervised release under the supervision and with conditions. 

The parole board is a board of correctional officers and others involved in your case, like your arresting officer, professionals who testified during your case, and those involved in your daily prison monitoring. 

This board oversees the parole hearing and reviews items such as your prison record, behavior, vocational training, relationships with other inmates, attitude towards correctional officers, and community involvement.

The board will also ask you what steps you’ve taken to improve your life while in prison, like educational accomplishments, anger management, or regular attendance at anti-addiction meetings. Another large part of parole hearings is that you’ve made a plan on what you intend to do if you get out of prison, whether on your own or with your prison counselor. 

Some questions your prison counselor may ask and take into consideration when you are eligible for parole include:

  • What career steps will you take? 
  • Where do you plan on living? 
  • Do you have a support system on the outside? 

What Are the Most Common Sentences for Attempted Murder in California?

The most common sentence for first-degree attempted murder in California is the aforementioned life sentence with the possibility of parole. As for second-degree attempted murder, a typical sentence is nine years. 

The length of sentencing depends on the defense’s ability to reduce sentence time by offering a plea bargain or pointing out a lack of evidence of premeditation.  

What determines if a second-degree attempted murder charge is met with a 5-, 7-, or 9-year sentence? 

If there is evidence of gun use, the sentence will length. If there was gang involvement, this can also increase the sentence. If there were innocent bystanders put in danger, this could also result in one of the longer sentences. 

These factors can also result in other consequences, such as paying a fine to the intended victim and their family or losing your right to own firearms. Once an attempted murder charge goes on your record, it is a recorded violent felony, and you won’t be able to legally purchase a firearm. 

California has a three-strike policy, and an attempted murder charge counts as a strike. If you reach three strikes in California, your prison sentence will be 25 years to life.

Finding an Attorney

Attempted murder charges are serious, especially if the murder attempt was on a law enforcement officer or a firefighter. 

Attempted murder charges can result in a harsh conviction, but even a reduced sentence or a lesser charge of second-degree attempted murder is a life-altering experience.  There is too much at stake to not have a knowledgeable attorney on your team to fight for your reputation. 

Contact Garret T. Rice for Help

need attorney

Garett T. Rice is an experienced attorney, knowledgeable in criminal law, with a history of success in strategic defenses for murder charges.  The help of an experienced and competent attorney is what you need to secure for yourself as soon as possible, and Garrett T. Rice can help minimize the damage these circumstances and charges can have on your life. With a strong, compassionate approach to the legal process, Rice has over 12 years of experience in defending clients with serious criminal charges. Previously a prosecutor of homicide and domestic violence cases, Rice is a skilled litigator who advocates for his clients and the best possible outcome.

Contact us today to schedule your free consultation with Garret T. Rice. 

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