Inchoate crimes, also called incomplete or attempt crimes, are acts that involve the intent to commit a specific criminal offense. Inchoate crimes are separate and distinct crimes because courts want to prevent serious crimes from actually taking place.
Generally, a person cannot be convicted for both an incomplete crime an the actual crime. For example, a person cannot be convicted of attempted murder and murder. There is however an exception to the crime of conspiracy. A person can be charged for conspiracy to commit a specific crime and the actual crime itself if the crime was completed
To be convicted of an inchoate crime, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt, that you had the specific intent to commit the actual crime.
What Are Some Incomplete Crimes?
The major inchoate or incomplete crimes are:
- Conspiracy: An agreement between two or more individuals to commit a crime with the specific intent by the two or more individuals to achieve the criminal objective, such as a conspiracy to sell drugs or to rob a bank. Majority of state now require an overt act following the agreement. For example, mere preparation to commit the crime will be a sufficient overt act. In addition, at least two individuals must actually have an agreement to commit the crime and have the intent to commit the crime- if one person made a "fake agreement"- no conspiracy since it lacks multiple guilty minds.
- Solicitation: The crime of solicitation consists of inciting, counseling, advising, encouraging, or commanding another to commit a crime, with the intent that the person actually commits the crime. One would be charged with solicitation even if the person solicited has no intent to commit the crime or does not even commit the crime. However, if the solicited crime is committed, both parties would be liable for the crime.
- Attempt: Attempt is an act, done with intent to commit a crime, but falls short of completing the crime. To be guilty of attempt, the defendant must have intent to commit the crime and take a substantial step in completing the planned crime. Generally, the defendant must be dangerously close to successful completion of the crime. If there was no specific intent to commit the crime, you cannot be charged with "attempt."
Are There any Legal Defenses to Incomplete Crimes?
There are a number of legal defenses that may exculpate you from an inchoate crime charge:
- Legal Impossibility: If the defendant acts or intended acts, if they were completed, do not constitute a crime under any circumstances, then the defendant cannot be charged with that crime. For example, if the defendant thought that the act he is committing or attempting to commit was a crime, but under the state’s laws it was no even a actual crime- defendant cannot be charged with attempt.
- Withdrawal of Conspiracy: It is important to know that a co-conspirator would be liable for all crimes committed in furtherance of a conspiracy, even if he did not commit the crimes or intended for the crimes to occur. Withdraw may be a defense to crimes committed in furtherance of a conspiracy if the defendant prevents the agreed crime before it occurs. This could happen by either informing local authorities beforehand or voluntarily stopping all actions toward the completion of the actual crime.
- Feigned Agreement: A co-conspirator may argue against a charge of conspiracy that the agreement made to commit a crime was feigned or fake. This will negate the specific intent element for the actual crime to be completed.
- Mistake of Law for Conspiracy: Conspiracy is an agreement to commit a crime with specific intent for the crime to be completed. So, if a defendant actually believed that they were committing a lawful act, then the defendant didn’t have the specific intent to commit the crime. Note that this defense only works for specific intent crimes.
What Are the Penalties for Incomplete Crimes?
The type of crime solicited and the type of conspiracy you are convicted of will determine the punishment of the crime. The more serious the crime that is solicited, attempted, or agreed to commit, the heftier the sentence and punishment will be. Many times, the penalties you face for the participation in a conspiracy will be based on the penalties that are enforced in relation with the underlying offense.
In addition, members of a conspiracy are criminally liable for all crimes that are committed in furtherance of the conspiracy.
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.