Understanding Attempt Crimes in California

Despite what you may think, more often than not, being convicted of an attempted crime can lead to the same sentence as if you had actually completed the crime. The basis of all criminal law comes down to intent.

The rationale is that if you attempted to do something, you had the requisite intent to carry out the crime, but were simply prevented from doing so due to an external factor (your gun chamber was empty, you got caught before you could complete the crime, you changed your mind after taking a substantial step to complete the crime, etc.). As such, California law provides for sentences consistent with a completed crime, even for mere attempt and incompletion of the target offense.

California Attempted Crimes Law

According to the California Penal Code Section 21a, an attempt to commit a crime consists of two elements:

  1. A specific intent to commit the crime and
  2. A direct, but ineffectual act done toward its commission

The burden is on the prosecutor to prove that both elements were met in order for the defendant to be convicted of attempt. The intent element applies to the “target” (or “underlying”) crime—that is, the crime that would have been committed, had the attempt been successful. The direct, ineffectual act requirement generally means that the defendant has taken a substantial step in completing the crime, such as showing up at the house he intended to burgle or pointing the gun at the person he intended to shoot.

Defenses to Attempt Crimes

Sometimes a person may attempt to commit a crime without realizing it. In this instance, you cannot be convicted of attempt if you did not intend to commit the underlying crime. Not intending to commit the underlying crime would be considered a legal defense to attempt as would:

  • Not taking a “substantial step” in the commission of the target crime, such as telling someone else about the crime or merely purchasing supplies intended to be used in the commission of the crime.
  • Attempting to commit a crime that does not include intent as one of its required elements. As discussed above, nearly all crimes have an “intent” element. However, the law recognizes certain malice crimes and strict liability crimes, where committing the act in itself extinguishes the need for intent to be present. Attempt is not a charge associated with these types of strict liability crimes or crimes where intent is not a required element of the target offense
  • Crimes of legal impossibility. If the underlying offense is not, in fact, illegal, there is a defense of legal impossibility to attempted crimes. On the other hand, if you attempt to commit a crime that is simply no longer possible (the subject matter has been destroyed or the means needed to effectuate the crimes or unavailable) you will not have a valid legal defense to an attempt charge

These are only a handful of the many valid legal defenses available to those that have attempted to commit crimes. Additional defenses may be available depending on the facts, circumstances, and the underlying offense.

San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney

Regardless of whether you are being charged with a completed crime or an attempted crime, an experienced San Diego criminal lawyer at the Law Offices of Vikas Bajaj, APC can help you understand your legal rights. Attorney Bajaj knows the ins and outs of the legal system and can help you navigate even the most serious criminal charges. To learn more about how he can help you, contact his San Diego criminal defense law firm at (619) 525-7005 today.


Criminal Law

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