You may be surprised to learn that even if you do not complete the actions for a crime, you can still be charged with “criminal attempt.” You may be even more surprised to learn that the penalties for an attempt might be the same or similar as those for the underlying crime.
Criminal attempt is charged when defendants try and fail to complete a crime. Typically, defendants must have taken some substantial step toward completing the crime before it failed or they were stopped. You can be charged even if no crime was completed. You might avoid criminal charges if you fully renounce the crime, but this must be proven in court. Criminal attempt is charged only for indictable crimes, and it is often also charged as an indictable crime. The penalties may be harsh, but an attorney can help you mitigate your sentence. Criminal attempt is often confused with conspiracy, which is a separate offense.
At the Law Offices of John J. Zarych, our New Jersey criminal attempt defense lawyers have years of experience successfully defending clients charged throughout the entire state. For a free case evaluation, call us today at (609) 445-3533.
What is Criminal Attempt in New Jersey?
Criminal attempt can be a tricky subject to wrap your head around. A defendant may be charged with criminal attempt for having the intent to commit a certain offense and then carrying out at least one significant step toward the crime’s completion. Exactly what this looks like will vary from case to case. However, there are multiple circumstances under which a person may be charged with criminal attempt. Our New Jersey criminal attempt defense attorneys have many years of experience handling these kinds of cases and are prepared to provide any assistance you need.
One way to get charged with criminal attempt is to begin carrying out a crime but failing to complete it due to some intervening force. A common intervening force would be the police. Suppose you tried to commit burglary by breaking into someone’s home. If the police apprehended you while picking the lock to the front door, but you have not yet entered the house, you obviously cannot be charged with burglary. However, you can be charged with criminal attempt of burglary.
On the other hand, suppose you have a change of heart before you finish the crime and decide to back out. Perhaps you are picking the lock and feel so guilty about your actions that you decide to leave. While you will not be charged for the completed offense, you could still be charged with criminal attempt. You must prove in court that you fully renounced the crime before completing it.
Definition of Criminal Attempt in New Jersey
In New Jersey, attempts can only be charged for indictable offenses, the state’s equivalent of a felony, and not for disorderly persons offenses, the state’s version of misdemeanors. According to the relevant statute, there are three ways someone can commit a criminal attempt in New Jersey. First, one commits criminal attempt if one purposefully does something that constitutes the crime, and the surrounding circumstances would cause someone to reasonably believe that a crime is being committed. This is known as the “reasonable belief standard.”
The second way you can commit an attempted crime is by doing something or failing to do something with the purpose of fulfilling an element of a crime. For example, if you set up a bomb to kill your ex-spouse and put it on a timer, but the bomb is faulty because of a mistake you made in the wiring and never goes off, you can still be charged with attempted murder. This is known as the “last proximate act” standard and basically means you have done all you thought you needed to do for the crime to happen, but you were foiled because of a mistake or events beyond your control.
The third and final way a person can commit a criminal attempt is if they do something that under the circumstances can reasonably be believed to be a significant step toward a crime, but they are interrupted. For example, if you prepare to commit a bank robbery, show up to the bank with a gun and a ski mask, and scream for everybody to get down on the ground, only to be tackled by a security guard who foils your plan, this would likely be enough to constitute attempted robbery. This is known as the “substantial step” test.
Can I Be Charged with Criminal Attempt if I Did Not Carry Out a Crime in New Jersey?
In light of the above examples, you can certainly be charged with criminal attempt if you did not actually carry out or complete the crime. In fact, attempt can only be charged when the crime is not completed. If the crime were actually completed, you would be charged with the completed crime, not the attempt of the crime.
Defendants tend to get confused when they are charged with the completed crime, but they only committed one small part. For example, if your friend robs a bank and you agree to drive the getaway car, you can still be charged with the completed crime of robbery even though you did not set foot inside the bank. Defendants are sometimes confused as to why they are not charged with a lesser offense like attempt.
The answer to this question is that defendants may be held responsible for the entire crime even if they only participated in one small part. Attempt may be charged when the crime is left incomplete for one of the reasons enumerated above. For example, if you plan to drive the getaway car and show up for the bank robbery, but the police apprehend you and your partner before you can rob the bank, you would both be charged with criminal attempt.
To avoid being charged with a crime you perhaps allegedly planned to commit but did not carry out, you would have to fully renounce the crime first. How you can renounce the crime is discussed in more detail below. Our New Jersey defense lawyers for criminal attempt charges can help you understand why you might be charged with attempt even though you did not carry out the crime.
How Do I Fully Renounce a Crime and Avoid Criminal Attempt Charges in New Jersey
It might sound like criminal attempt charges leave no opportunity for a potential criminal to back out of a crime and avoid charges and penalties. However, this is not the case. It is certainly possible to stop what you are doing before a crime is complete and avoid charges for criminal attempt. You must fully renounce your criminal intent, and, in some cases, you might have to take steps to negate any damage you did or possible future harm.
Under N.J.S.A. 2C:5-1(d), full renunciation of a crime is an affirmative defense to charges for criminal attempt. An affirmative defense is great because it negates criminal intent and, if proven, leads to charges being dropped or dismissed. According to the law, your renunciation must demonstrate total abandonment of your crime. Your renunciation must also be voluntary. It is not considered a voluntary renunciation to choose to cease your criminal actions because you believe the police are nearby.
Renunciation may be accompanied by evidence showing that you not only stopped carrying out the crime but took steps to prevent the crime from being completed. For example, slipping something into someone’s drink but then dumping it out before they take a sip could qualify as renunciation. Poisoning or drugging someone would typically count as assault, and dumping the drink out would make that assault impossible.
Renunciation may be an affirmative defense, but it is not automatically accepted. You must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that your crime was fully renounced to avoid charges for criminal attempt. Our New Jersey criminal attempt defense attorneys can help you gather the necessary evidence to assert your defense.
What Are Examples of Criminal Attempt in New Jersey?
Criminal attempt is charged when the defendant is believed to have begun the process of committing a crime, but the crime was left incomplete. As mentioned before, there are several different ways in which a defendant might be charged with criminal attempt. Each case is unique, and you should speak to our New Jersey defense attorneys for criminal attempt charges about your case.
One example of a criminal attempt case might involve robbery. Suppose a defendant is charged with robbing someone on the street using a gun. The defendant walked up to the victim, held out the gun, and demanded all the victim’s money. However, the victim quickly fought back and managed to fend off the defendant before running away. The crime of robbery was left incomplete, as the defendant failed to separate the victim from their belongings. However, the defendant took substantial steps to complete the crime and was stopped due to forces beyond their control. This is a prime example of criminal attempt.
Alternatively, the defendant might still be charged with criminal attempt if they walked up to the victim, held up the gun, demanded the cash, but had a sudden change of heart and ran away. Although the defendant chose not to complete the crime, they still took substantial steps to complete it. Not only that, but their refusal to follow through with the crime would likely not qualify as a full renunciation.
One last example, continuing with the robbery scenario, would be if the victim had no money or belongings on them to take. Technically, the robbery would not be a completed crime because the defendant was unable to actually steal any of the victim’s property. However, this failure does not constitute a renunciation, as the defendant attempted to follow through with the crime.
Is Criminal Attempt a Felony in New Jersey?
An important issue to discuss with your attorney is how your charges for criminal attempt are assessed. Defendants often want to know right away if they are being charged with a felony or a misdemeanor. In New Jersey, different terminology is used. Crimes that would be misdemeanors are referred to as disorderly persons offenses. Crimes that would be felonies are called indictable crimes. In short, your criminal attempt charges could be indictable crimes (felonies) if the completed crime would have been a felony.
If you attempt a first-degree crime, you will likely be charged with second-degree criminal attempt. However, if the crime attempted is murder or an act of terrorism, you will be charged with first-degree criminal attempt. For almost all other cases, the charges for criminal attempt will be of the same degree as the completed crime.
If your completed crime would have been an indictable crime (felony), you will generally be charged with a crime. If the crime would have been a disorderly persons offense (misdemeanor), you can be charged with a criminal attempt for the same degree. However, it might be possible to mitigate your charges to something lesser.
You can mitigate your charges if your attempted crime was inherently unlikely to be completed. At the time of your attempted crime, perhaps you were unaware that the crime was impossible to commit. For example, you tried to steal someone’s car, but the car could not be stolen because there was no gas in the tank. Our New Jersey criminal attempt defense attorneys can help you argue to get your charges reduced.
Penalties for Criminal Attempt in New Jersey
As noted in the introduction section above, the potential penalties if you are convicted for an attempted crime ae the same as if you had been convicted of the underlying crime. For example, attempted robbery will typically, like robbery, be a second-degree crime punishable by 5 to 10 years in prison and up to $150,000 in fines. Furthermore, any conviction for criminal attempt will show up on your criminal record, making it more difficult to find gainful employment, receive certain benefits, and be licensed in some professions.
Mitigating the Penalties for Criminal Attempt in New Jersey
If a defendant is found guilty of criminal attempt, the court will move on to the sentencing phase. During this time, we might be able to convince the court to impose a more lenient sentence. Under N.J.S.A. § 2C:5-4(b), we can mitigate the sentence and convince the judge to impose a lesser sentence if neither the criminal conduct nor the defendant presents a public danger warranting a more serious penalty.
Mitigation may be done in one of two ways. First, we can mitigate the penalties if the criminal attempt was inherently unlikely to succeed or culminate in a crime. This is often the case when defendants are suspected of carrying out poorly laid criminal plans. For example, suppose a defendant is charged with criminal attempt for trying to steal a large truck by pushing it away. It is highly unlikely that one person could move a heavy truck by pushing it, and the theft is almost inherently unlikely to succeed.
The second way we can try to mitigate the penalties applies more to conspiracy cases. We can mitigate the penalties if your part in the conspiracy and attempted crime was only peripherally related to the main criminal act. Essentially, your portion of the incomplete offense might be so far removed from the main criminal act that you should not be punished as harshly.
Remember, mitigation is not an affirmative defense and is not guaranteed to succeed. Even if you meet the above criteria to mitigate the charges, the judge must be persuaded. This might be difficult if the criminal attempt was for a very serious or violent crime. For example, charges for criminal attempt related to murder, terrorism, human trafficking, or similarly grievous offenses are unlikely to be mitigated before sentencing.
The Difference Between Criminal Attempt and Criminal Conspiracy in New Jersey
The crime of conspiracy sounds very similar to criminal attempt. While there are numerous similarities, there are also some crucial differences. Unlike criminal attempt, conspiracy requires an agreement made between more than one person to commit a crime. Conspiracy is often confused with criminal attempt because conspiracy does not require the crime to be completed for the defendant to be charged.
Conspiracy is also punished much like criminal attempt. If you conspire to commit an indictable crime (felony), your conspiracy charges will be for the same level of crime. Renouncing your participation in a conspiracy might be more difficult than doing so for a solo crime. Once the conspiracy is in motion and steps are being taken to commit the crime, it is not enough to just back out of the crime and leave. You may need to take additional steps to stop the others in your conspiracy. Call our New Jersey criminal attempt defense attorneys if you are also facing conspiracy charges.
How Can a Lawyer Help with a Criminal Attempt Case in New Jersey?
Our skilled New Jersey criminal attempt lawyer will be able to look at the particulars of your case and, with our knowledge of the law and experience in prior cases, come up with the best defense to get the prosecutor to downgrade or dismiss the charges against you.
In some cases, for attempts of relatively minor crimes, we may be able to convince the prosecutor to let you into a pre-trial diversion program or enter a plea in abeyance. In either case, if you fulfill the court’s requirements, your charges will be dropped, and you will not have a criminal record. Other deals could include the charge being downgraded to something less serious or the prosecutor agreeing to recommend a lenient sentence in exchange for you pleading guilty.
Of course, if you do not wish to make a deal, our skilled trial attorneys are ready and able to fight for your innocence in the courtroom, using the renunciation defense or another argument to fight to convince the judge or jury to render a not guilty verdict.
Call Our New Jersey Criminal Attempt Defense Lawyers
Convictions for attempted crimes can bring about penalties that are just as serious as those for completed crimes. At the Law Offices of John J. Zarych, our experienced New Jersey criminal attempt defense lawyers will be there throughout the criminal process. Call us today at (609) 445-3533 for a free case evaluation.