Attempts versus Completed Offenses
Murder, theft, rape, arson, robbery, and the other hard-core felonies leave damage in their wake. The decedent is killed; the property taken; the body violated. Crime consists in an attack against a tangible human interest. The crime succeeds when the goods of life, limb, property, and freedom fall hostage to hostile intentions.
At the core of the criminal law, then, there lies a victim. One function of criminal proceedings is to address the victim's sense of having suffered unjustly. The victim demands justice--both in seeing the criminal brought to account and even in seeing the offender suffer as the victim has suffered. But retribution is not the only function of punishment. Crimes also threaten the public interest in security. Accordingly, the state takes charge of prosecuting criminals. But the pursuit of justice in response to a crime eventually gives rise to a more basic question: Would it not make sense to intervene and prevent harm before it occurs? If the would-be offender is about to kill or rape, why not stop him at that point and convict him of the crime? Thus was born the idea of attempted crime.
The concept of attempting derives from the completed offense. The primary difference is that the harm--the death, the beating, the loss of property, the sexual penetration--is absent. But when the harm is absent, it is not clear how much the actor must do in order to be guilty of an attempt. In Western jurisprudence the first recorded effort to define a criminal attempt appears in the French Penal Code of 1810.