What is Attempt?

Legal Definition
An attempt to commit a crime occurs if a criminal has an intent to commit a crime and takes a substantial step toward completing the crime, but for reasons not intended by the criminal, the final resulting crime does not occur. Attempt to commit a particular crime is a crime, usually considered to be of the same or lesser gravity as the particular crime that never ended up happening. Attempt is a type of inchoate crime, a crime that is not fully developed. The crime of attempt has two elements, intent and some conduct toward completion of the crime.

One group of theories in criminal law is that attempt to commit an act occurs when a person comes dangerously close to carrying out a criminal act, and intends to commit the act, but does not in fact commit it. The person may have carried out all the necessary steps (or thought they had) but still failed, or the attempt may have been abandoned or prevented at a late stage. The attempt must have gone beyond mere planning or preparation (see article on preparation and attempt, and is distinct from other inchoate offenses such as conspiracy to commit a crime or solicitation of a crime. There are many specific crimes of attempt, such as attempted murder, which may vary by jurisdiction. Punishment is often less severe than would be the case if the attempted crime had been carried out. Abandonment of the attempt may constitute a not guilty defence, depending partly on the extent to which the attempt was abandoned freely and voluntarily. Early common law did not punish attempts; the law of attempt was not recognised by common law until the case of b. Rex v. Scofield in 1784.

The essence of the crime of attempt in legal terms is that the defendant has failed to commit the actus reus (the Latin term for the "guilty act") of the full offense, but has the direct and specific intent to commit that full offense. The normal rule for establishing criminal liability is to prove an actus reus accompanied by a mens rea ("guilty mind") at the relevant time (see concurrence and strict liability offenses as the exception to the rule).
-- Wikipedia
Legal Definition
Even if a defendant fails to fully complete a crime, he or she can be charged with attempt, i.e. in the case of an uncompleted or inchoate offence. While the requirements for proving attempt vary by jurisdiction, generally specific intent must be shown (even if the underlying crime was a general intent or strict liability offence) as well as a substantial step towards actually committing the crime itself.
Illustrative caselaw
See, e.g. U.S. v. Resendiz-Ponce, 549 U.S. 102 (2007).
See also
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1113, attempt to commit murder or manslaughter
  • 26 U.S.C. § 7201, attempt to evade or defeat tax
Legal Definition
Criminal law. An attempt to commit a crime, is an endeavor to accomplish it, carried beyond mere preparation, but falling short of execution of the ultimate design, in any part of it.

2. Between preparations and attempts to commit a crime, the distinction is in many cases, very indeterminate. A man who buys poison for the purpose of committing a murder, and mixes it in the food intended for his victim, and places it on a table where he may take it, will or will not be guilty of an attempt to poison, from the simple circumstance of his taking back the poisoned food before or after the victim has had an opportunity to take it; for if immediately on putting it down, he should take it up, and, awakened to a just consideration of the enormity of the crime, destroy it, this would amount only to preparations and certainly if before he placed it on the table, or before he mixed the poison with the food, he had repented of his intention there would have been no attempt to commit a crime; the law gives this as a locus penitentiae. An attempt to commit a crime is a misdemeanor; and an attempt to commit a misdemeanor, is itself a misdemeanor. 1 Russ. on Cr. 44; 2 East, R. 8; 3 Pick. R. 26; 3 Benth. Ev. 69; 6 C. & P. 368.
-- Bouviers Law Dictionary
Legal Definition
In criminal law. An effort or endeavor to accomplish a crime, amounting to more than mere preparation or planning for it, and which, if not prevented, would have resulted in the full consummation of the act attempted, but which, in fact, does not bring to pass the party's ultimate design. People v. Moran, 123 N. Y. 254, 25 N. E. 412, 10 L. R. A. 109, 20 Am. St. Rep. 732 ; Gandy v. State, 13 Neb. 445, 14 N. W. 148; Scott v. People, 141 111. 195, 30 N. E. 329; Brown v. State, 27 Tex. App. 330, 11 S. W. 412; U. S. v. Ford (D. C.) 34 Fed. 26; Com. v. Eagan, 190 Pa. 10, 42 Atl. 374.

An intent to do a particular criminal thing combined with an act which falls short of the thing intended. 1 Bish. Grim. Law, § 728.

There is a marked distinction between "attempt" and "intent." The former conveys the idea of physical effort to accomplish an act; the latter, the quality of mind with which an act was done. To charge, in an indictment, an assault with an attempt to murder, is not equivalent to charging an assault with intent to murder. State v. Marshall, 14 Ala. 411.
-- Black's Law Dictionary
Legal Definition
An offer, trial, effort or experiment to do some act but failing to carry out the intended purpose. See 24 Am. St. Rep. 860.
-- Ballentine's Law Dictionary