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Atlanta Criminal Defense Lawyers > Blog > Manslaughter > What Is the Line Between an Accidental Shooting and Attempted Murder?

What Is the Line Between an Accidental Shooting and Attempted Murder?


Under Georgia law, the crime of murder requires the state to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant acted “unlawfully and with malice aforethought, either express or implied” in causing the death of another person. This same standard applies to charges of attempted murder. That is, the prosecution must show the defendant acted with “malice” in shooting or otherwise attempting to kill the victim.

Court: History of Domestic Violence Supported Attempted Murder Conviction

Malice in this context includes “implied malice.” In simple terms, a jury can infer the defendant acted with malice if the evidence shows the defendant engaged in “extremely negligent conduct” that a reasonable person would understand to create a very high risk of death to another person. Put another way, the prosecutor does not have to show the defendant had formed a specific intent to kill the victim. It is sufficient to prove the defendant merely acted with a reckless disregard for human life.

A recent Georgia Court of Appeals case, Thompson v. State, helps to illustrate what we are talking about. This case involved a defendant charged with the attempted murder of his girlfriend. At trial, the state introduced evidence showing the defendant and his girlfriend had been “in a volatile on-again-off-again relationship for years.” There were multiple incidents of domestic violence by the defendant towards the girlfriend.

On the night in question, the defendant started yelling at the girlfriend. He pulled out a gun. She grabbed the barrel of the gun. He fired the gun, shooting the girlfriend in the head. The girlfriend did not die but sustained serious injuries that affected her ability to function.

A grand jury indicted the defendant for attempted murder and several related offenses. The trial jury convicted the defendant on all counts. On appeal, the defendant argued the evidence did not support an attempted murder conviction. He maintained that he intended to kill himself with the gun, and when the girlfriend grabbed the barrel, she was accidentally shot.

The Court of Appeals rejected this argument. The Court said the jury could infer “implied malice” based on the defendant’s prior history of violence against the girlfriend. For instance, one of her friends testified at trial that she heard the defendant threatening to kill the girlfriend. The girlfriend herself also testified that a few months before the shooting, the defendant had choked her when she asked him to leave her house.

More to the point, the appellate court said the fact the defendant had been waiving a loaded and cocked firearm close to the girlfriend’s head was “extremely negligent conduct.” So even if the defendant had only meant to shoot himself, his conduct still satisfied the legal requirements for attempted murder of the victim.

Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers Today

There are many cases where what at first appears to be murder might be more properly classified as manslaughter or some lesser criminal offense. A qualified Georgia manslaughter lawyer can review your case and advise you of your options for presenting a legal defense. Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers today to schedule a free consultation. We serve clients throughout Georgia including Atlanta, Dunwoody, Alpharetta, Cobb County, Fulton County, Gwinnett County, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs.



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