Have You Been Charged with Attempted Murder in South Carolina? Call Us Today.

Attempted murder is a serious criminal offense that carries severe penalties, including prison time and fines. Working with our experienced criminal defense lawyers is crucial if you or your loved one is facing an attempted murder charge and needs a strong defense. It is important to understand what you are up against when facing the legal system, and we will provide high-quality legal advice every step of the way. At David W. Martin Law Group, we understand the gravity of attempted murder charges and how they can impact your life.

What is Attempted Murder?

South Carolina law defines attempted murder as a person who attempts to kill another person with ‘malice aforethought.’ Also, this person must have the necessary intent to commit the attempted murder. This breaks down into three elements (1) an attempt to kill another person, (2) intent, and (3) malice aforethought.


To prove criminal liability, the State must show the defendant had both criminal intent as well as the actual, physical act that constitutes the offense. The physical act constituting attempted murder means that the defendant actually tried to kill the victim. Here are the elements of proving intent: the defendant intended to commit attempted murder, the defendant took a substantial step towards committing that offense, and the defendant ultimately failed to commit murder. Of course, if the defendant follows through with the attempt and is ‘successful,’ they will be charged with murder.


Again, a primary component of proving any criminal offense is showing intent. This means demonstrating a criminal defendant acted with the necessary criminal intent or mental state required for attempted murder. Proving the defendant’s mental state, otherwise called mens rea, is whatever that individual was thinking at the time of the act. Specifically, the State will try to prove it was the defendant’s conscious objective to cause a certain result or the defendant knew the result was almost certain to occur due to their conduct.

Malice Aforethought

According to the South Carolina Supreme Court, malice aforethought is a criminal legal term that indicates a “wicked or depraved spirit intent on doing wrong.” The Court further stated malice aforethought indicates a “formed purpose and design to do a wrongful act under the circumstances that exclude any legal right to do it.” In other words, the defendant intended to commit a crime with a certain level of premeditation or planning involved that demonstrates their disregard for human life. Malice aforethought can be established by showing the defendant’s reckless conduct that created a serious risk of death or bodily harm.

What are the Penalties for Attempted Murder?

Attempted murder is a serious and violent crime that is classified as a felony. A conviction for attempted murder carries a prison sentence of no more than thirty years. This sentence cannot be suspended, nor can it be substituted with probation like other lesser offenses. While victims will be able to share their input at trial, it has no clear impact on sentencing. However, at a parole hearing, it is given primary consideration in determining whether to release the defendant from imprisonment. Other factors that impact sentencing are called aggravating and mitigating factors.

The court may extend a defendant’s sentence based on aggravating factors. Aggravating factors are circumstances or actions that increase the severity of a criminal offense by making the crime more serious or harmful in some way. State law lists the following as aggravating factors:

  • The attempted murder was committed during the following crimes or acts:
    • Criminal sexual conduct;
    • Kidnapping;
    • Human trafficking;
    • Burglary;
    • Robbery with a deadly weapon;
    • Larceny with a deadly weapon;
    • Killing by poison;
    • Drug trafficking;
    • Physical torture;
    • Dismemberment of a person;
    • Or arson.
  • The attempted murder was committed by a person with a prior conviction.
  • The offender knowingly created a risk of death to more than one person in a public place by using a weapon or harmful device.
  • The offender committed the attempted murder for the purpose of receiving compensation or something of monetary value.
  • The attempted murder was against an officer of the state (ex. judge) during or because of their official duties.
  • Two or more people were harmed by the defendant rather than one victim.
  • The offender committed attempted murder as an agent or employee of another person.
  • The offense against a law enforcement agent took place during their official duties.
  • The victim of the attempt is a child under the age of eleven.
  • The attempt was committed by a person who the state has deemed a sexually violent predator.
  • The attempted murder is of a witness or potential witness to prevent the prosecution of a crime.

The court may also reduce a defendant’s sentence based on mitigating factors. These are factors that can decrease the severity or harmful nature of the crime, which includes:

  • The defendant has no significant criminal history involving the use of violence against another person.
  • The attempted murder was committed while the defendant was under the influence of mental or emotional disturbance.
  • The victim was a participant in the defendant’s conduct or consented to the act.
  • The defendant was an accomplice in the attempted murder committed by another person, and their participation was relatively minor compared to the primary actor.
  • The defendant acted under duress or under the domination of another person.
  • The capacity of the defendant to appreciate the criminality of their conduct or to conform their conduct to the requirements of law was substantially impaired. For example, by mental capacity or substance use.
  • The age or mentality of the defendant at the time of the crime.
  • The defendant was provoked by the victim.

What are the Defenses to Attempted Murder?

Our experienced criminal defense lawyers can review the facts of your case and determine which defense(s) will be the most successful. Below are several affirmative defenses that may be applicable in your case. However, there are others not expanded on here, including lack of intent or accident. Call our criminal defense lawyers today for more information on these defenses and how they may apply to your case.


The South Carolina Supreme Court set forth the following factors of self-defense in State v. Fuller:

  1. The defendant is without fault in bringing about the victim’s behavior. For example, in State v. Jackson, the defendant was found not at fault because a law enforcement officer entered a house without a warrant. The defendant did not know the officer and killed them, thinking they were an intruder.
  2. The defendant must actually believe they are in imminent danger of being killed or seriously harmed or was actually facing that danger.
  3. If the defendant believed they were in that grave of danger, the court will ask whether a reasonable person in the same situation would have believed they were in that same danger. When considering a reasonable person, the court can take into account the age, physical characteristics, gender, and other characteristics of the defendant.
  4. The defendant had no other reasonable means to avoid the danger of death or harm than to act exactly how they did when committing the offense.

Defense of Others 

Similar to self-defense, the defense of others is another potential argument against an attempted murder charge. In State v. Hays, the South Carolina Supreme Court extended the definition of self-defense to a relative, friend, or bystander. In another case, the Supreme Court described this as the defendant intervening on behalf of another person, and self-defense would be appropriate for that other person as well. The defendant ‘stands in the shoes’ of the person who is being attacked, if that person had the right to self-defense, then the defendant can also use that argument.

Defense of Property 

In South Carolina, this is also called the Castle Doctrine. The idea behind this doctrine is that your home is your castle, and therefore you can defend it and those in it. Under this state law, if the defendant is under reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm to themselves or others in the home, the defendant may take reasonable steps to protect their home and those individuals in it.  There is a presumption of reasonable fear where another individual is using deadly force to unlawfully enter the defendant’s home or ‘castle.’ If this defense is successful, the defendant cannot be charged with attempted murder and cannot be sued for any injuries caused by their actions.

How Can Our Lawyers Help When You are Facing an Attempted Murder Charge?

David W. Martin Law Group has been representing criminal defendants in South Carolina for years and will build a strong case for you or your loved one facing attempted murder. The legal process for these cases typically involves several stages. These stages include arrest, arraignment, pretrial hearings, trial, and sentencing. The legal process is complex and can be slow moving, having us on your side can help navigate it. It is important to work with experienced criminal lawyers to protect your rights and increase your chances of achieving a favorable outcome in your case. If you need criminal defense representation, call us today at 854-400-4844.

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