Defenses to Incomplete Crimes

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What is an Incomplete Crime?

Certain acts that are done in preparation for a crime can sometimes be considered a crime in themselves. These are called “incomplete crimes”, “inchoate” crimes, or attempted crimes. An example of this is where a person takes steps towards attempting a crime, such as loading a gun with bullets with the intent to use it for an assault. 

Proving an incomplete crime can involve a complex analysis of several factors, most of these revolving around the defendant’s intent. Attempted crimes are specific intent crimes, meaning that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person intended for the crime to be completed. 

The most common types of incomplete crimes are:

Thus, the laws governing incomplete crimes make it possible to be found guilty of a crime even if no harm actually resulted from the conduct. 

Are there any Defenses to Incomplete Crimes?

Yes- there are several defenses that can be raised if one is charged with an incomplete crime. In addition to the standard criminal defenses such as incapacity, insanity, self-defense, etc., the defenses of abandonment and impossibility are commonly used in connection with incomplete crimes.

The defense of abandonment may be raised if the defendant: 1) renders some affirmative signal that they are withdrawing from the attempted crime, and 2) takes affirmative steps toward preventing the target crime. Thus, if a person states that they wish not to participate in the attempted crime, and then calls the police, they might be able to raise the defense of abandonment.

The defense of impossibility can be based on two types- factual impossibility and legal impossibility. Factual impossibility occurs if the circumstances make it impossible to commit an intended crime. An example of this is when a person tries to shoot another person with a broken gun. Factual impossibility is generally not allowed in most jurisdictions. 

Legal impossibility occurs when the act that a person intends to do actually isn’t a crime. For example, if a person intends to strike a tree but almost hits a bystander, it can’t be called attempted assault, since his intentions were not illegal. 

Are These Defenses Available for All Incomplete Crimes?

You should be aware that the defenses of abandonment and impossibility don’t apply equally to all incomplete crimes. For example, if a person is charged with conspiracy, they can raise the abandonment defense if it is available, but they cannot raise an impossibility defense.  For attempt charges, the defense of abandonment can be raised, but they can only raise a legal impossibility defense, and not a factual impossibility defense.

Therefore, raising a defense for an incomplete crime can sometimes be complicated. For this reason, it is best if a defendant works closely with a criminal defense attorney when attempting to claim a defense. 

Do I Need a Lawyer to Raise Defenses to Incomplete Crimes?

While it can be daunting to face criminal charges for an incomplete crime, you may have several options when it comes to raising a defense. It is to your advantage to hire a criminal defense lawyer to help you with your case. Criminal laws can be very different from state to state, so be sure to ask your lawyer if you have questions about the laws in your area.

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Last Modified: 09-11-2013 03:51 PM PDT

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