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What Are the Punishments for Attempting a Crime in CA?

By Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney on June 10, 2021

Under California law, it is a crime to attempt to commit a criminal act, whether or not you succeed. In other words, it is an “attempted crime” when a person tries to break the law but fails.

As stated at 664 PC, “Every person who attempts to commit any crime, but fails, or is prevented or intercepted in its perpetration, shall be punished where no provision is made by law for the punishment of those attempts… “ Criminal attempts are penalized with one half the sentence that would be imposed if the crime were completed.

How Are Attempted Crimes Charged?

To prove a defendant attempted a crime, the prosecutor must establish these elements:

  • The defendant took a direct step toward committing the crime; and
  • The defendant intended to commit the underlying crime.

Under the law, a “direct step” means more than merely procuring or arranging something needed to commit the crime, and more than preparing or planning to carry it out. A direct step is a movement toward committing the crime after preparations have been made that shows a definite, unambiguous intent to go through with the criminal act. It puts the plan in motion so it would have been completed if some circumstance had not interrupted the attempt.

If a plan to commit a crime is voluntarily and freely abandoned by the would-be perpetrator before a direct step is taken, that person is not guilty of the attempted crime.

Here are some examples.

  • A would-be robber points a gun at an older woman in the park and demands her handbag. The woman whacks the man in the side of the head with her bag, then scurries away, yelling for help. The police arrive and apprehend the attempted robber.
  • A man breaks into a woman’s apartment in the middle of the night with a knife in his hand and the intention of committing rape. The woman gets away from the would-be rapist and screams loud enough to wake the entire apartment complex. The man flees and is caught by the police in the process.
  • A burglar breaks into an unoccupied house with the intention of stealing valuable items. Just after he climbs through a window, the homeowners return from a road trip. The burglar tries to flee the scene without actually stealing anything but is stopped by the man of the house, who points a handgun at him while the woman calls the police.

What Are Defenses for Attempted Crimes?

A common defense for an attempted crime charge is that the defendant committed no act in furtherance of the underlying crime. If the defendant did not perform such an act, he or she could not be prosecuted for attempting to commit a crime. Other possible defenses include no intent to commit a crime and abandonment of the attempt. The penalties for conviction of an attempted crime are set at one-half the jail time and/or fine that would have been imposed if the crime were completed.

While the penalties for attempting a crime are halved in California, depending on the crime the prosecution believes you were trying to commit, you still face long prison sentences if you do not employ a strong defense. Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers at Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP can craft a strategy based on the circumstances surrounding your case. We handle matters of great personal consequence to our clients with the utmost discretion. If you are being charged with attempting a crime, contact us immediately at (213) 688-0460 to arrange for a free initial consultation.

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Posted in: Criminal Defense