Criminal Law, Pages 524–529

People v. Superior Court (Decker)

Supreme Court of California, 2007


Defendant wanted to kill his sister to get money she owed him but knew that he would be the prime suspect, so he attempted to hire a hitman. He located Holston, an undercover officer posing as a hitman; gave him a description of his sister, her locations, and her habits; and suggested killing her friend Bafiera too. Defendant and Holston agreed on a method of killing and a price. Defendant said he was 100% sure he wanted to go through with it and gave Holston $5,000 as down payment. Their conversations were recorded, and defendant was arrested and charged with attempted murder.

Defendant's Argument:

Defendant was guilty of solicitation, but not attempted murder.


Was defendant guilty of attempted murder?


Defendant uncontradictedly had the specific intent to kill his sister. This is shown in how he researched how to find an assassin, spent months getting the money for it, formulated a plan, chronicled her routines, expressed his desire to have her killed, and suggested that Holston be killed as well.

An attempt also requires an overt act beyond mere preparation. However, in California, "[w]henever the design of a person to commit crime is clearly shown, slight acts in furtherance of the design will constitute and attempt." Defendant knew he was putting a plan in motion and that the facts would have led a reasonable person to believe a crime would occur absent an intervening force. Defendant had no further act to do. He may not have aimed a gun at her, but he did aim an armed professional who had agreed to commit the murder.

A solicitation combined with a completed agreement to hit a professional killer and making a downpayment under that agreement can establish probable cause for attempted murder.


An attempt requires a specific intent to commit the crime and a direct but ineffectual act done toward its commission.


Yes, the record was sufficient to hold defendant guilty of attempted murder.

Dissenting Opinion:

Werdegar: Defendant's acts were only indirect. Defendant himself did not point a gun at his sister or otherwise menace her. The direct object of his preparatory acts was Holston, not his sister.