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What Is Criminal Attempt?

Under common law, it is a crime to attempt to commit a misdemeanor or felony, such as attempting to steal something or attempting to cheat at gambling. To be found guilty of attempting to commit a crime, it must be found that you made an effort to accomplish the crime and that you took a "substantial step" beyond mere preparation. Attempt is a form of an inchoate offense or an inchoate crime.

Can I Be Convicted of Attempting a Crime?

Yes. In fact, you can even be convicted for asking someone else or helping someone else to commit a crime. Just having the intent or mental state of attempting the crime would be sufficient to be guilty of the crime if a substantial step was taken in committing the intended crime. In order to be charged with an attempt crime, you must:

  1. Have a specific intent to commit a criminal act.
  2. Commit a direct act or a substantial step toward the completion of the particular act with specific intent that the act be completed.

What Are the Possible Defenses to Criminal Attempt?

There are a number of defenses for incomplete crimes:

  • No Specific Intent: If you didn’t have the specific intent to commit the crime, then you cannot be found guilty. Specific intent is required for an incomplete crime because otherwise your act would have been accidental or otherwise innocent.
  • Mere Preparation: Even if you had the specific intent to commit the crime, you would not be guilty of attempting the crime if you did not take a "substantial step" beyond mere preparation to execute the plan. What qualifies as a substantial step will depend on the state statutory law.
  • Voluntary Intoxication: Voluntary intoxication is not a complete defense, but it can be used to negate certain specific intent crimes such as attempt. Note that you can still be guilty of another lesser offense that did not require specific intent.
  • Legal Impossibility: Legal impossibility is where a person has a plan to commit an act believed to be a criminal offense, but is not actually criminal.

What about Factual Impossibility?

If a person cannot possibly commit a crime due to facts he does not understand, he can still be guilty of the crime, if he had the criminal intent. For example, you can still be guilty of purchasing cocaine, even if what you purchase is actually powdered sugar.

What Are the Possible Penalties for Criminal Attempt?

The punishments for inchoate or attempt crimes vary widely depending upon the type of crime attempted. The ranges of punishments for attempt crimes are as follows:

  • Attempted murder is a serious charge and has severe legal penalties. If convicted of attempted murder, there is a possibility that you can face life in prison.
  • Attempting to commit a crime with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment is punishable by imprisonment in state prison for 5-10 years.
  • Attempting to commit a criminal act with a maximum penalty less than life imprisonment can result in imprisonment in state prison for one-half of the prison term for the full crime.
  • An attempt to commit a crime for which the punishment is a fine can be punished by a fine of no more than one-half the largest fine for the full crime.

Do I Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer?

If you have been charged with a criminal attempt crime, it is important that you contact a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. An experience criminal defense attorney can help prepare the case and determine all the possible defenses.

Photo of page author Kourosh Akhbari

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 12-19-2016 02:32 PM PST

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