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Crimes of Intent or Attempts: An Overview

Updated: Feb 7, 2023 @ 8:20 pm

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While some may find it counterintuitive, the crime of attempt has been on the books in Texas for almost 50 years now. In theory, an attempted crime is not a completed crime, and yet Texas (and many other states) chooses to punish attempts, because the conduct involved in making an attempt to commit a crime is inherently dangerous, not unlike the completed crime. There are several categories of attempt crimes, also called preparatory offenses, in Texas law.

Legal Definitions

Attempt crimes are defined by Texas Penal Code Sec. 1501, and they are defined explicitly as attempts to commit a crime with specific intent. Specific intent crimes are those where a person commits an act with the intent to cause a specific reaction. (The opposite, general intent crimes, are crimes where the only intent is to commit the act.) For example, battery is a general intent crime, while larceny is a specific intent crime – a person must decide to steal a certain specific item, while a battery is merely an unwanted or harmful touching, with no premeditation required.

It is generally held that to be found guilty of a crime, it must be proved that you had both mens rea (a ‘guilty mind’) and an actus reus, (‘affirmative guilty act’). For an attempt crime, you must be shown to have had a ‘guilty mind,’ but also to have made a “substantial step” toward the commission of whatever crime. Thoughts are not actionable, nor is idle talk. But if, for example, the situation goes from idly discussing a possible robbery to beginning to acquire weapons or a getaway car, the people involved would almost certainly be guilty of attempted robbery.

Examples and Punishments

Some offenses that one might think exist in fact do not under Texas law. For example, some states recognize a cause of action for attempted drunk driving, including California. However, the case of Strong v. State,  87 S.W.3d 206 (Tex. App. 2002), held that no such cause of action exists in Texas. Someone either drives drunk or does not.

Texas does, however, recognize attempt causes of action for most specific intent crimes, and a select few general intent crimes (rape is one example, as it essentially becomes a specific intent crime when directed at an individual person). Generally, they carry a punishment of one rung lower than the completed crime. In other words, if convicted of an attempt to commit a class A misdemeanor, the punishment would be that given for a class B misdemeanor.

Examples of these types of crimes include attempted:

  • Murder – if you attempt to harm a specific person with the intent to kill;
  • Burglary – if, for example, you give up halfway through picking a lock, this would constitute attempt;
  • Robbery;
  • Rape;
  • Kidnapping;
  • Larceny; and
  • Most other crimes that have clearly delineated components.

Let A Legal Professional Explain Your Situation

The methodology behind attempt crimes can be extremely convoluted, and because of this, it is always a good idea to engage a competent criminal defense attorney. The experienced Houston criminal defense attorneys at The Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates will help answer any questions you may have, and do our very best to ensure a fair outcome for you and yours. To set up an initial appointment, you can contact us by phone at 281-280-0100.

The Law Office of Tad Nelson & Associates

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Houston DWI Lawyer Tad A Nelson is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the TBLS.

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