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Utah Criminal Code: Attempted Crimes

Can I be charged with committing a crime I did not complete?

In some cases, police and prosecutors accuse the wrong person of committing a crime. But in some Utah cases, a person can be lawfully charged and convicted of a crime that they did not completely commit. Under Utah Code 76-4-101, a defendant can be convicted of attempting to commit a crime, even if the defendant is not successful in completing the commission of the crime.

The penalties for a mere "attempt" to commit a crime can still be serious. Having the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney can be vital to achieving the best results. If you have been accused of committing or attempting to commit a crime in Utah, contact Salt Lake City criminal defense attorney Stephen Howard not to arrange for an initial confidential consultation.

Attempting to Commit a Crime - Elements of the Offense

Utah's appellate courts have interpreted criminal attempt statutes as requiring more than what is sometimes referred to as "mere preparation" to commit a crime. To be convicted of a criminal attempt, the defendant's conduct must constitute a "substantial step" toward the commission of the actual crime. Additionally, the defendant must intend that the crime be committed. As an example, consider the following hypothetical situation:

A defendant is engaged in target practice at a shooting range. While so engaged, the defendant decides to try to kill another person at the shooting range. The defendant aims a gun in the direction of the intended victim and fires a shot, intending to hit and kill the person - but misses.

Under such a scenario, the defendant has the intent to unlawfully cause the death of another human being, and took a substantial step toward committing that crime. The defendant could be convicted of attempted murder. Consider, however, the following alternate scenario:

A defendant is engaged in target practice at a shooting range. While focused intently on the target, the defendant does not notice that another person has walked dangerously close to the target. The defendant fires a shot, narrowly missing the person. Upon noticing the person, the defendant immediately stops shooting and takes appropriate measures to ensure that no other people are at risk.

Under this alternate scenario, even though the initial actions the defendant took in shooting the gun were very similar, the intent of the defendant was very different. Without the required intent to commit a crime, a person is not guilty of an attempt to commit a crime.

One subtle distinction exists with regard to the required intent in attempt cases where the underlying crime includes a particular result as a required element of the crime. In such attempt cases, the intent element is satisfied by proof that the defendant was aware that his conduct was "reasonably certain" to cause the required result.

Punishment for an Attempt to Commit a Crime

Under Utah law, a conviction for an attempt to commit a crime is typically punishable at a level one step lower than the underlying offense. For example, an attempt to commit a third-degree felony is typically punishable is a class A misdemeanor. An attempt to commit a second-degree felony is punishable as a third-degree felony.

Exceptions to this rule generally involve first-degree felonies. For first-degree felony crimes including murder, child kidnapping, or certain first-degree felony sexual offenses under Title 76, Chapter 5, Part 4 of the Utah criminal code, an attempt commit the crime is still punishable as a first-degree felony, but with a minimum prison term of three years. The maximum for such attempted offenses remains life in prison.

Other exceptions apply specifically to certain sex offenses involving a child (rape of a child, object rape of a child, or sodomy on a child). A person convicted of completing one of these offenses faces a mandatory prison sentence of 25 years to life in prison, with the potential for life without parole. For an attempt to commit such a crime, life in prison remains the maximum, but the minimum imposed for attempt may be reduced to 15, 10, 6, or 3 years in prison.

"Attempt" as a Plea Negotiation Tool in Utah Criminal Cases

It is common to see several convictions for "attempted" crimes when reviewing Utah criminal history reports. This is not because Utah criminals are not particularly successful in completing their crimes. Instead, a conviction for an "attempted" crime is often the result of the plea negotiation process. 

Many Utah criminal cases are resolved through plea negotiations. In some cases, a prosecutor may be convinced that the defendant actually committed the completed crime. But in order to grant some leniency to the defendant, a prosecutor may agree to call the offense an "attempt." For example, even though a person may have actually committed a third-degree felony forgery, a prosecutor may agree to allow the defendant to plead guilty to a class A misdemeanor "attempted" forgery. By using an "attempt" as a negotiation tool, a defendant may be allowed to stay out of prison, avoid being labeled as a "convicted felon", and may increase his chances at receiving probation rather than jail time as a sentence.

Finding a Utah Criminal Attorney in Salt Lake City

Salt Lake Criminal Defense AttorneyA criminal conviction can have serious consequences. If you have been charged with a crime in Utah, an experienced criminal defense can help in developing the best defense strategy for your specific circumstances.

Based in Salt Lake City, criminal lawyer Stephen Howard provides services to clients throughout Utah. Contact us today to arrange for a confidential consultation.

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Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

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560 South 300 East, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
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