A Look at Criminal Attempt

In Florida, as in other states, you can be held criminally liable for attempting (but failing) to commit a crime, or otherwise engage in illegal activity.

Suppose, for example, that you have a knife on your person, and in a fit of rage, you attack someone on the street.  You stab them several times in the back, aiming for vulnerable areas.  Initially, the victim is seriously injured, but they eventually make a full recovery.  Depending on how the court assesses the attack, you could be held liable for attempted murder.

Criminal attempts are codified in section 777.04 of the Florida Statutes.  Let’s take a look at some of the fundamental elements of a criminal attempt charge, and how each might play out over the course of litigation.

Elements of Criminal Attempt

Pursuant to section 777.04, a person may be found liable for criminal attempt if he or she:

  1. attempts to commit an offense prohibited by law,
  2. but fails in the perpetration of such offense, is intercepted, or is prevented in the execution thereof.

As a criminal defendant, you will want to show that you did not actually attempt to commit a crime.  The primary difficulty for the prosecution is in proving that you have engaged in acts that clearly demonstrate an attempt towards the commission of the offense at-issue.  Acts generally fall somewhere along a spectrum — the circumstances of the “attempt” are critical in determining whether you actually intended to commit a crime.

For example, casually telling your friend that you are going to kill them (for joking around with you) is not likely to evidence an authentic intention to commit the crime of murder.  In fact, words rarely constitute sufficient evidence for criminal attempt.

In determining whether you have committed a criminal attempt, the court will assess the total circumstances surrounding the event, and will assess whether you have engaged in acts for the furtherance of the illegal purpose at-issue.  For example, if you tell someone that you are going to kill them, that is likely not enough to justify a criminal attempt charge.  On the other hand, if you cut the brakes to their car while they’re sleeping, that is an act which furthers the criminal purpose.

Renunciation of Criminal Purpose

Florida law provides criminal defendants with a defense in the form of renunciation.  In accordance with the criminal attempt statute, you will not be found liable for criminal attempt if the circumstances demonstrate that you manifested a “complete and voluntary” renunciation of your criminal purpose.

Complete and voluntary renunciation requires that you either abandon your attempt to commit the crime at-issue, or that you prevent the crime from occurring.  For example, if you initially intend to steal from someone by pickpocketing them, but upon approach, you turn around and simply walk away (as you abandon the attempt), then you cannot be found liable for criminal attempt.  Temporary abandonments are not sufficient, however.  If you abandon your pickpocketing attempt due to difficulty, but intend to try again, then the first abandoned attempt will not serve as a complete defense to the criminal attempt charge.

If you’ve been charged with criminal attempt, or if you’re simply concerned that you may be charged with a criminal attempt on the basis of conduct that could be perceived as taking steps towards criminal activity, call (941) 900-3100 as soon as possible to speak with one of the experienced Sarasota criminal defense attorneys at the Fowler Law Group today.  During your initial consultation, we will assess your case and help you develop a strategic roadmap for criminal litigation.

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