The definitions for criminal attempt -- in which the defendant ultimately fails to pull off the crime -- vary from state to state. But generally, attempted offenses occur when an individual has an actual intent to commit a crime (in legal terms, specific intent), and takes direct action toward completion of the crime. Typically, an individual will have failed to complete the crime, but this is not necessarily required. One common example of an attempted crime would be attempted murder, where an individual must have the intent to kill another individual, then take action towards that end but fall short of actually doing so.
The following focuses on criminal attempt, including examples and links to related resources. See FindLaw's Attempt, Conspiracy, and Aiding section to additional articles.
Criminal Attempt and the Importance of Intent
Because attempt crimes are typically incomplete (by their own nature), establishing the intent of an individual is often the key to securing a conviction. Thus, it is important to note that it would not be enough for an individual to intend only harm or even serious harm to a victim, for purposes of an attempted murder conviction.
In some jurisdictions, the actions or acts taken for an attempted crime must go beyond "mere preparation" for the offense. In these cases, the defendant will have had to actually taken material steps toward committing the murder, regardless of any premeditated plans. However, other jurisdictions permit a conviction based on a wider range of actions taken towards completing a crime, perhaps a detailed, written plan and possession of a would-be murder weapon procurred specifically for that purpose.
Stages of an Incomplete Crime
You may be charged with attempt if you have "set the wheels in motion," so to speak, somewhere along the line between deciding to commit the crime and completing it (without actually succeeding). A crime is incomplete if the defendant either:
- Abandoned the commission of the crime after taking steps to commit it (such as arranging a robbery and procuring a handgun); or
- Failed to complete the crime after taking steps to commit it (for instance, being foiled by an alarm system or security guard).
Generally, the stages of an incomplete crime consist of the following:
- The perpetrator considers committing a crime, weighing the pros and cons before deciding whether to do it (it's just a thought at this point)
- Perpeprator affirmatively decides to commit the crime (again, still just a thought)
- Perpetrator prepares for the crime, perhaps bringing in accomplices or purchasing materials (guns, disguises, etc.)
- Perpetrator begins the commission of the crime (drives to the location of the crime, etc.)
- Crime is committed and completed
Not all crimes can be "attempted," legally speaking, only those with specific intent. Specific intent refers to the state of mind in which an individual plans to commit a certain crime, knowing what the outcome may be. For instance, attempted battery is not a criminal charge because the crime of battery does not require a premeditated intent to cause harm. But someone who threatens bodily harm may be charged with assault.
Charged with Attempting a Crime? Get a Free Legal Review of Your Case
Attempt crimes, because they are incomplete, swing on some very fine distinctions. As such, there are many opportunities for a clever defense attorney to undermine the prosecution's case. In any event, defendants have the right to defend themselves against criminal charges in court. Considering getting a free evaluation of your case by a qualified, local attorney.