Citation. 22 Ill.41 N.Y.2d 725, 395 N.Y.S.2d 419, 363 N.E.2d 1155 (1977)
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Brief Fact Summary.
The Defendant, Dlugash (Defendant), was convicted of murder. He challenged the conviction on the basis that the victim was already deceased when Defendant fired a round of bullets at his head.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A person can be convicted of attempting to commit a crime even though, if effected, it would not actually constitute a criminal offense.
Defendant’s friend fired three bullets into the chest of their companion after an argument about rent money. A few minutes later, Defendant walked over to the victim’s body lying on the floor and fired five shots at the victim’s head. He contended that the victim already looked dead at the time he fired his gun. Expert witnesses testified that the victim may still have been alive at the time Defendant shot him, though another expert testified that the victim may well have already deceased.
Can Defendant be held criminally liable for attempting to murder a person who may already have been dead?
The court agrees with the lower appellate court that Defendant’s murder conviction cannot stand because the state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the victim was alive when Defendant shot him. But insomuch as the jury convicted Defendant of murder, they necessarily found that he intended to kill a live human being. Defendant’s conviction can therefore rest on the lesser included offense of attempted murder. Provided Defendant believed that the victim was alive when he shot him – as the jury’s murder conviction demonstrates – he may be held criminally responsible for attempting to kill the victim, regardless of whether the victim was in fact alive at the time. It is no defense that the crime was factually or legally impossible provided that a crime would have been possible if the circumstances had in fact been as Defendant believed them to be.
This case illustrates the modern trend regarding the doctrine of impossibility. Here, the focus is on what the Defendant believes is true, rather than what is actually true. This broader approach allows the state to punish morally culpable conduct that, because of extraneous circumstances, would not necessarily have resulted in any actual ha