Criminal law is designed to safeguard the individual rights of citizens and also the health and well being of society. It is responsible for setting the parameters of social conduct, and for ensuring consistent application of principles and doctrines across the board.
One of the controversial areas of criminal law is penalizing criminal attempts. Within the legal community, an attempt is classified as an inchoate crime. An inchoate crime is an incomplete crime.
When one attempts criminal behavior but does not complete it, should that person still be liable as a matter of public policy? What if a prospective criminal stops a second from shooting their victim, deciding not to follow through their criminal intent? Furthermore, should a criminal be penalized for attempting to commit a crime that is definitely factually impossible?
In this article, we are going to consider each of these arguments and take a look at possible ways in which they may be effectively handled.
Under Florida Law, an inchoate crime is generally a degree under the actual offense. An attempted first degree felony usually becomes a second. An attempt at a second degree felony would become a third.
Criminal law usually concerns itself with punishing people who have committed wrongs against society. That's the reason the case is always styled State of Florida vs. The State is the victim of all criminal offenses since the offense is against the values and rules set by the State.
One of the crucial pertinent questions most legal systems face is when, if at all, to intervene in perfectly legal behavior in aid to stop a crime from happening? Consider the example of a gunman trying to murder a close friend. He buys a firearm. Is he arrested at this point for attempted murder? He goes to a hill near his friend's house with the gun. Here? He takes aim and begins to squeeze the trigger? How about now?
It is rather tough to interpret the most advantageous point to intervene in potentially criminal behavior. On one hand there is the threat of encroaching on individual rights, while on the other there is an apparent threat to life, and property. Drawing the line can be particularly difficult in recent times. This has caused both criminal defense attorneys and prosecutors many headaches.
Consider next the scenario of the thief stealing from an empty pocket. Mentally and physically he has committed sufficient acts to be convicted of the crime, but just because there was no wallet to be stolen, should he walk free? This is an example of factual impossibility. Because there was no wallet, he could never be convicted of theft, but should he be liable in attempt? The answer in most jurisdictions is yes, but again this presents further complications. Say as an example, you have a would-be drug dealer who buys a quantity of paracetamol. Since we are in the United States, paracetamol is acetaminophen or Tylenol. The dealer sells the acetaminophen under the mistaken belief it is illegal - he could never be convicted of dealing a controlled substance, but could he be convicted of an attempt? Most jurisdictions again say yes, using the rationale that dangerous people should be stopped in their tracks. Although a good point, this sort of argument does not sit well in a modern context, particularly where civil liberties and human rights play such a big role in law.
The concept of abandonment also receives much scrutiny. Someone waits until the final minute and decides to not kill? Alternatively, is the fact that he considered and made steps towards committing a homicide sufficient to establish guilt? Courts across the United States are intensely divided over this issue. What is certain is that criminal law is obliged to intervene in certain circumstances to guard society.
The concept of inchoate crimes is extremely interesting. Of particular note is the specific treatment in various jurisdictions of both abandonment and illegality. We may never see a time when all jurisdictions agree on what exactly constitutes sufficient action to determine guilt for an attempt.