Completing a crime is usually needed before you're charged and possibly convicted. Back out before finishing, and you can't be found guilty. However, did you know certain acts done in preparing for a crime can be crimes themselves? These are called inchoate crimes.
Inchoate crimes, also called incomplete crimes, make certain acts illegal even though no actual harm's done. Inchoate crimes serve to punish and deter people from crime. Three main inchoate crime types are:
Criminal attempt is trying to commit a crime and failing. This is often seen as the most serious inchoate crime because the person may have came close to completing the crime. For example, a person that shoots to kill another but misses may be charged with attempted murder. If his aim was better and he succeeded, the charge would be murder.
Criminal attempt has three main elements:
- Specific intent
- Actions to commit the crime
- Failure to commit the crime
A criminal attempt charge requires a person to have had specific intent to commit the actual crime. If the crime almost happened by accident, it's not attempt. For example, a hunter who almost shoots another person must have intended to kill for it to be attempted murder.
Actions close and connected to the crime are also required. It can't be just acts that prepare for the crime. For example, if you buy a gun, thinking about a bank robbery in a few months, your acts are probably too far removed from the actual crime to amount to attempted robbery. However, if you drove to a bank to rob it and you're arrested before leaving the car, you've gone far enough to commit attempted robbery.
Failing to commit the crime is the last element. Once the crime is done, you're charged with the actual crime, and not attempt.
Criminal conspiracy is when two or more people agree to commit a crime. This crime is used to charge multiple people planning or doing illegal activities. Conspiracy is different because you can be charged with the actual crime and the conspiracy to commit it. For example, if you plan with others to kill someone, you can be charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
Criminal conspiracy main elements are:
- Two or more people
- Agreement to commit a crime
- An overt or open act to carry out the plan
You can't be charge with conspiracy unless someone else agrees to commit the crime. In many states, proof of the agreement is enough to charge everyone involved. Some states require an overt act towards carrying out the plan, such as buying needed materials.
Criminal solicitation is when one person commands, encourages or asks another to commit a crime. A common example is prostitution. The crime is complete when one person asks another to commit an illegal act.
Solicitation main elements are:
- Intent to have someone else commit a crime
- An act to induce the other person
In order to charge someone with solicitation, the person must have the specific intent to try to induce another person to commit a crime. He must also commit some act to induce the other person, such as using certain key words or phrases specific to the crime. A person can't be charged with the actual crime solicited and criminal solicitation.
Defenses to Inchoate Crimes
There are defenses to inchoate crimes. These vary by state laws and crime type. Common defenses include:
- Legal impossibility
- Factual impossibility
Abandonment means you completely and voluntarily stop all actions towards completing the actual crime. For conspiracy, you also have to try preventing the crime from happening. Do this by informing the police in time or doing something to stop the crime.
Legal impossibility means what the person intends to do isn't actually a crime. For example, if a person intends to shoot a target on a tree but misses and almost hits someone, it's not attempted murder since his intention isn't illegal.
Factual impossibility means circumstances made it impossible to commit the intended crime. These are usually circumstances the person attempting the crime isn't even aware of. For example, if a person tries to shoot someone with a broken gun. Most states don't allow this defense since the person still has the specific intent to commit an illegal act.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can a person be charged with criminal attempt every time he tries to commit a crime but fails?
- If I'm involved in a drug dealing conspiracy, what can I do to avoid punishment if I decide what I am doing is wrong?
- If a spouse attempts to poison her husband but accidentally uses a substance that isn't toxic, will the defense of factual impossibility prevent her from being charged with attempted murder?