Are Attempts Like Treason?
Stephen P. Garvey
Cornell Law School
November 23, 2009
If the state can legitimately criminalize only actions that cause or risk harm, and if it respects the fact that an actor who sets out to commit a crime can always change his mind until he takes the last step, we are apt to end up with a law of attempts in which an attempt is a crime only when the actor has taken the last step, or come very close to taking it. Our dominant theories of attempt, objectivism and subjectivism, do indeed end up with such a narrow law of attempts. In contrast to these theories, I suggest that an actor who chooses to form the intent to commit a crime, who chooses to resolve to commit that crime, and who chooses to take a step in furtherance of that intention is akin to a traitor. He has chosen to obey a self-made law antithetical to the law claiming his allegiance, and the state should in principle be permitted to punish him, as it should any traitor.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 37
Keywords: criminal law, attempts
JEL Classification: K14
Date posted: November 23, 2009 ; Last revised: January 22, 2010
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