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Aggravated Assault v. Attempted Murder

What makes the difference between an attempted murder charge and an aggravated assault charge in Utah?

Intent is the single most important factor to consider in distinguishing between an aggravated assault charge and an attempted murder charge. Sometimes referred to as "mental state" or "mens rea" (a Latin phrase meaning "a guilty mind"), the mental intent of defendant must match the required intent element in most Utah crimes. In a case involving a charge of attempted murder, the prosecution must be able to prove that the defendant had the specific intent that actual death be caused.

Aggravated assault and attempted murder are both serious felony charges that require the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact us today to see how we can help.

Specific Intent Crimes - General Examples

Right to Remain SilentA specific intent crime is one which requires both proof of the required conduct (acts or omissions by the defendant) and also proof that the defendant acted with the intent that a specified result occur or that a specific goal be achieved. Many offenses that are classified as specific intent crimes contain the phrase "with the intent to" as part of the statutory elements of the offense.

Burglary - Burglary is a common example of a specific intent crime. Under Utah law, burglary can be charged when the evidence demonstrates that a person "enter[ed] or remain[ed] unlawfully  in a building . . . with the intent to commit [a felony, theft, assault, lewdness, sexual battery, etc.]" In order to support the charge, a prosecutor does not have to prove that any of the listed crimes was actually committed. Instead, the prosecutor must show unlawful entering or remaining and also show that the defendant had "the intent to" commit one of the listed offenses.

Without evidence of the defendant's intent to commit one of the listed offenses, entering or remaining unlawfully in a building becomes a relatively minor trespass charge. With evidence that the defendant entered or remained unlawfully and also intended to commit one of the listed offenses, the charge becomes a much more serious felony.

Theft - Theft is another common example of a specific intent crime. For the most common form of theft, Utah law requires evidence that a defendant "obtain[ed] or exercise[d] unauthorized control over the property of another with the purpose to deprive [the owner] thereof."

Attempted Murder or Aggravated Assault

Attempted murder is a "specific intent" crime, which means that in addition to proving that the defendant willfully or intentionally engaged in the alleged conduct, the prosecutor must also prove that the defendant acted with the intent to achieve a specific result. For a charge of attempted murder, the prosecutor must prove not only that a defendant committed an act that could have caused death, but but with the specific intent that death actually be the result of the act.

A person's intent is generally not provable by direct evidence. Police, prosecutors, and jurors often will look to circumstantial evidence to attempt to determine the defendant's actual intent. Facts that are often considered in this context can include the nature of any injuries inflicted, the degree or severity of any such injuries, the type of weapon used (if any), possible motives of the defendant, the absence of possible motives, or statements made by the defendant before or after the incident. This is not an exhaustive list of possible evidence, but it should serve to illustrate potential ways in which a prosecutor might present evidence to support the intent element of an attempted murder charge.

If the evidence in a case proves that a defendant caused or even attempted to cause injury to another person but the evidence does not demonstrate an intent to cause death, the evidence does not support a conviction for attempted murder. If the injury is serious or even life-threatening, the prosecutor must still prove an intent to actually cause death. Without proof of that specific intent, only a charge of aggravated assault is justified by the evidence.

Choosing the Right Criminal Lawyer

Utah Criminal LawyerAggravated assault and attempted murder are both serious felony charges that carry the potential for substantial prison terms and financial penalties. If you are facing criminal charges in Utah, whether at the felony or misdemeanor level, having the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney can be critical to obtaining the results you need.

Contact us today to arrange for a confidential consultation. See what the right attorney can do for you.


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  • Selected Victories
  • Criminal Defense Trial AttorneyNot Guilty - Client was charged with aggravated assault for alleged attack using broken bottle as a weapon. Despite the testimony of numerous prosecution witnesses, thorough defense investigation to support a self-defense claim resulted in acquittal by jury at trial.
  • Minor Possession Alcohol - MIP AttorneyDismissed - Minor in possession charge (MIP) was dismissed by prosecutor when defense analysis demonstrated that the police had failed to obtain necessary evidence against client. Police had raided a large party involving underage drinking. Several individuals were charged, but police did not obtain evidence showing that client had personally consumed or possessed alcohol. Case was dismissed.
  • Utah Probation Attorney Released - Client absconded for more than 10 years from felony probation with Adult Probation and Parole. At an order to show cause hearing, prosecutor argued aggressively for prison. Based on effective mitigation efforts by the defense, the judge agreed to release client without further jail.
  • Utah Burglary Attorney Not Guilty - Client was charged with residential felony burglary and theft charges. Effective cross-examination of alleged victim at preliminary hearing resulted in an admission by the alleged victim that the charges were based on a false report to police, made for the purpose of getting revenge against the defendant. Case was dismissed outright.
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Serving Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Cache, Tooele, Summit, Box Elder, and Wasatch Counties, and all of Utah.

Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

Offices in Salt Lake and Davis Counties
560 South 300 East, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
952 S. Main St., Suite A, Layton, UT 84041

Call now to arrange for a confidential initial consultation with an experienced and effective Utah criminal defense lawyer.

In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
In Davis County, call 801-923-4345.

Stephen W. Howard, PC

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