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What is “transferred intent” in a murder case?


You’re out with your buddies and you’re having a good time – until another group shows up in the same area and starts to hassle you. Things get heated, and you feel particularly threatened. You pull out your gun and fire.

Your shot goes awry, however, and you hit your best friend rather than the guy who was trying to intimidate you. Your friend dies. It’s a tragic accident, right? Legally, it could be murder. Here’s what you need to know.

Transferred intent means that you can still be charged with murder

Someone’s intentions are a big part of any homicide case because intent is often exactly what separates a homicide from an accident. In a situation like the one described above, you obviously didn’t intend to hurt your friend. You did, however, intend to hurt or kill the guy you were trying to shoot. Under the law, your intentions basically follow your actions – or, in this case, the bullet you fired.

You can be found just as guilty of murder over the death of your friend as you might have been had you hit your actual target. This is called transferred intent.

You still have potential defenses available to you

If you were acting in self-defense or you were trying to defend someone else when you pulled out your weapon, you may still be able to plead self-defense. While California does not have a “stand your ground” law, retreat isn’t always feasible when you’re cornered somewhere by a hostile party.

If you reasonably believed that you were in danger of bodily harm, you may have had every right to pull your gun and fire – and that’s a valid act of self-defense rather than murder. Legal cases involving homicide and other acts of violence can get very complicated. Make sure you have an experienced defense on your side.

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