Many residents of Philadelphia and nearby counties like Delaware County or Chester County face criminal cases due to a shooting. In this legal article, our criminal law firm provides legal info on attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder, two common charges in shooting cases in Pennsylvania.
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PA Criminal Law: What is Attempted Murder?
Under the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, a criminal attempt is defined in Section 901(a):
A person commits an attempt when, with intent to commit a specific crime, he does any act which constitutes a substantial step toward the commission of that crime.
In Philadelphia shooting cases, firing a gun at another person would be enough to make out a charge for attempted murder. The act of pulling the trigger, while aiming at another person, would be a substantial step.
PA Criminal Law: What is Conspiracy to Commit Murder?
In many shooting cases in Philadelphia, multiple people will be charged with conspiracy to commit murder, whether it’s a group of friends or members of a gang.
To prove conspiracy, the prosecution will look at the timeline before the shooting occurred. This includes the days, hours and even minutes before the shooting. The prosecution will point to what was said, done and understood between the alleged co-conspirators.
Under Pennsylvania criminal law, conspiracy is defined as follows:
A person is guilty of conspiracy with another person or persons to commit a crime if with the intent of promoting or facilitating its commission he:
See Section 903(a) of the PA Crimes Code.
Example of Conspiracy to Commit Murder
Two friends, A and B, are walking down the street in Philadelphia and get into a fight with someone, C, who they previously had a problem with. After the physical fight, A goes home to get a gun. He gives the gun to his friend, B, who then finds and shoots C. Here, A could be charged with conspiracy to commit murder because he went home after the fight and got a gun, which he then gave to B.
Maximum Sentence for Attempted Murder & Conspiracy to Commit Murder – 40 or 20 Years in Prison
Under Pennsylvania criminal law, the maximum prison sentence for a conviction for attempted murder or conspiracy to commit murder is either: 1. 40 years (when serious bodily injury occurs), or 2. 20 years (when serious bodily injury does NOT occur). See Section 1102 (c) of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code:
Attempt, solicitation and conspiracy.–Notwithstanding section 1103(1) (relating to sentence of imprisonment for felony), a person who has been convicted of attempt, solicitation or conspiracy to commit murder, murder of an unborn child or murder of a law enforcement officer where serious bodily injury results may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment which shall be fixed by the court at not more than 40 years. Where serious bodily injury does not result, the person may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment which shall be fixed by the court at not more than 20 years.
Intent Required for Attempted Murder & Conspiracy to Commit Murder
In order to be convicted of attempted murder or conspiracy to commit murder, there must be intent to kill. Firing a loaded gun at someone would be enough to show intent to kill. However, there may be cases when a defendant isn’t guilty of attempted murder, and instead, is only guilty of a lesser crime like assault or recklessly endangering another person.
For example, a group of young men are hanging out in Philadelphia. One of them, A, has a loaded gun, but tells his buddy, B, that the gun isn’t loaded. B, who has no reason to believe otherwise, jokingly points the gun at their friend, C, and pulls the trigger. Here, B had no intent to kill C. If C died, B might be guilty of involuntary manslaughter, a first degree felony. A, on the other hand could face a series of charges including attempted murder, aggravated assault, etc.
Defenses to Attempted Murder & Conspiracy to Commit Murder
There are several defenses to murder charges in shooting cases. They may be legal defenses or factual defenses. An example of a factual defense is a wrong identification. An eyewitness may simply have made a mistake in identifying the defendant as the shooter.
Legal defenses vary and can include Motions to Suppress Evidence based on illegal conduct of police officers (i.e., violation of the accused’s constitutional rights). In shooting cases, the defendant may be able to prove self-defense.
For more criminal law info, visit the Philadelphia Murder & Homicide Law Library.