WHAT ARE “ATTEMPT” CRIMES?
In some circumstances a crime can be punished before it occurs. Many jurisdictions have either a general “attempt” crime or individual statutes that make attempted murder, attempted robbery or other crimes punishable. The purpose of these statutes is to punish an individual who has shown himself to be dangerously inclined to commit a crime without waiting until the criminal act is actually completed.
In order to convict a person for an attempted crime, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person had the intent to do an act or bring about certain consequences that would amount to a crime, and that he or she took some steps beyond mere preparation towards that goal.
Whether the offender has the intent necessary to be convicted of attempt depends on the mental state required by the underlying crime. If a person’s actual intention at the time he or she attacked the victim was to cause bodily harm, he or she cannot be convicted of attempted murder if the victim does not die. However, the attacker could be charged and convicted of the actual crime of murder if the victim died, even if the intention was only to cause bodily harm.
Likewise, a person who fails in their attempt to steal can be convicted of attempted theft, which requires the intention to deprive another of his property permanently, only if he or she had the same intention at the time the crime was attempted.
Like most crimes, attempt requires a “bad act” as well as a bad intention. Therefore, the government must prove the offender engaged in conduct that tended to affect the crime. The exact nature of the act needed to meet this “preparation” requirement varies from case to case, depending on individual facts.
For example, a person who checked in at the ticket counter of an airport and sat in the waiting area with a gun in his pocket was convicted of the crime of attempting to board an airplane with a gun. A person who planned to rob a bank messenger and drove around looking for him on his regular route, but did not find him, was not guilty of attempted robbery.
The punishment for the crime of attempt can be the same as the punishment for the completed crime. However, most jurisdictions make some distinction and provide for a lesser punishment for attempt. For instance, some states provide that the punishment for attempted first-degree theft will be the same as the crime of second-degree theft.
The Model Penal Code, which is a source of many states’ criminal statutes, generally requires the same punishment for attempt as the punishment for the underlying crime on the rationale that a person who attempts a crime has shown himself to be just as much in need of corrective sanctions as the one who actually completes a crime.