A 21-year-old Los Angeles man has been arrested for stabbing a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy. According to reports, Donald Chinchilla approached the deputy in the parking lot of a Canyon Country restaurant and asked if he was, in fact, a deputy. When he acknowledged that he was, Chinchilla stabbed him with a large kitchen knife and then fled the scene. He was found in a nearby backyard later that day and immediately arrested for the attempted murder of the deputy.
Just because an attempt to kill another person is unsuccessful doesn’t mean that a person will escape criminal charges. In California, it is a crime to attempt to commit a crime. This includes acts of homicide. When is conduct considered an attempt to commit a crime? California law says that an attempt to commit a crime occurs when you:
- Intend to commit a specific crime, and
- Perform a direct but ineffective step to commit that crime.
In order to be convicted of attempted murder, a person must (1) have the specific intent to kill another person and (2) take some direct action to commit the crime.
What is a Direct Step?
What kind of behavior will be considered to be a direct step for the purposes of attempted murder? In California, a direct step requires something more than planning. Direct steps are those taken after the planning and preparation have been completed. Courts have described direct steps as “putting [a] plan into action,” an “immediate step that puts the plan in motion,” and those which “indicate a definite and unambiguous intent to kill.”
Taking a large kitchen knife and willfully thrusting it into the torso of another person will likely be classified as a direct step. As long as Chinchilla also had an intent to kill the deputy he will likely be found guilty of attempted murder.
Abandoning the Intent to Kill
What happens when your attempt to kill another person is unsuccessful, and you later decide not to follow through on your original plan? You will still face criminal charges for attempted murder despite your change of heart. The fact that you did take a direct step in an effort to kill another person is enough to warrant criminal charges. However, it is important to know that if you simply prepare and plan to kill another person, but never take a direct step toward committing the crime, you cannot be charged with attempted murder. The fact that you abandoned your intent to kill before you took any steps will limit your criminal liability.
Attempt to Kill a Peace Officer
Crimes can become more serious when the victims are in certain protected classes. Children, the elderly, and the disabled are great examples. When a person commits a crime where the victim is a member of one of these protected classes the consequences become more severe. The same is true when a crime is knowingly committed against a peace officer. Not all crimes are aggravated when the victim is a cop. In order to warrant aggravated charges, the perpetrator of the crime must:
- Know that their victim is a peace officer engaged in his or her official capacity; or
- Specifically target that victim because they are a peace officer.
Will Chinchilla face aggravated penalties because the victim of his crime was a sheriff’s deputy? Early reports do not indicate whether or not the sheriff’s deputy was on duty at the time of the stabbing. However, it is clear that Chinchilla specifically asked his victim if he was a sheriff’s deputy. Immediately after his suspicion was confirmed Chinchilla drove a large knife into the victim’s body. If prosecutors can prove that Chinchilla targeted the deputy because of his position as a law enforcement officer Chinchilla will likely face additional time in prison.
Penalties for Attempted Murder
In most situations, the penalty for unsuccessfully attempting to commit a crime is half of whatever the punishment is for the intended crime. When the crime is attempted murder, however, the penalties are a bit more severe. The following penalties will apply when a person attempts to commit a specific type of murder in California:
Attempted Premeditated Murder: A willful, deliberate, or premeditated attempt to commit murder is punishable by life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Attempted Acts of Murder Punishable By Life In Prison: An attempt to commit murder, where that murder would be punishable by life in prison or death, is punishable by up to nine years in a California state prison.
Attempted Murder of a Peace Officer: Any attempt to purposefully kill a person who you know (or should know) is a peace officer is punishable by life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Fighting Attempted Murder Charges
When faced with criminal charges it is important to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Hiring an attorney will significantly increase your chances of securing the best possible outcome in your case. Contact the Los Angeles Criminal Law Center to schedule a free consultation with one of our skilled attorneys. We will review your case, determine the best defense(s) for your specific situation, and explain your legal rights.