Brief Fact Summary.
Police arrested Stanford before he could deliver a stolen coat to Booth (Defendant). Stanford made the delivery for the police and Defendant was convicted of attempted receipt of stolen property.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A person cannot be guilty of attempt if the act they are attempting would not be a crime if completed.
Defendant agreed to buy a coat that Stanford had stolen. Before he could deliver the coat, Stanford was arrested. Stanford agreed to aid the police by going through with the agreed upon sale to Defendant. Stanford gave the coat to Defendant, who was then arrested. Defendant was convicted of attempting to receive stolen property and appealed.
Can a person be guilty of attempt if the act they are attempting would not be a crime if completed?
:(Nix, J.) No. A person cannot be guilty of attempt if the act they are attempting would not be a crime if completed. This is an example of a “legal impossibility.” If a person with criminal intent commits an act that is not actually a crime, then no crime exists. Similarly, if a person attempts to commit an act that he believes to be illegal, but actually is legal, no crime of attempt exists. Once the coat was recovered by police, it was no longer stolen property. When Defendant received the coat, he was not in receipt of stolen property even though he intended to be. Since the underlying crime was impossible, the attempt was as well. Reversed.
The Government conceded and the Court agreed that it is a legal principle of long standing that when stolen goods are recovered by the owner or his agent before they are sold, the goods are no longer to be considered stolen, and the purchaser cannot be convicted of receiving stolen goods.View Full Point of Law
Legal impossibility is a very complex and confusing area of the law. While the theory sounds simple, it is extremely difficult to apply.