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People v. Murray

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Murray (Defendant) argued that while he made preparations to marry his niece, he did not actually attempt to contract an incestuous marriage, as he had been convicted of.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    The crime of attempt requires acts that would end in the consummation of the underlying offense but for the intervention of circumstances outside of the defendant’s control.

    Facts.

    Defendant made preparations to marry his niece, including eloping with her and sending a witness to get the magistrate to perform the ceremony. Defendant was charged with and convicted of attempting to contract an incestuous marriage. On appeal, Defendant argued that his actions were mere preparations and had not crossed into an actual attempt to commit the underlying offense.

    Issue.

    In order to commit an offense of attempt, must an individual move beyond preparations and commit acts that would end in the consummation of the underlying offense but for the intervention of circumstances outside of the defendant’s control?

    Held.

    (Field, C.J.) Yes. The crime of attempt requires acts that would end in the consummation of the underlying offense but for the intervention of circumstances outside of the defendant’s control. There is a large difference between mere preparation to commit an offense and an attempt to commit that offense. Preparation involves coming up with and arranging the manner of committing the offense. An attempt is the direct movement toward the commission of the offense after those preparations are made. Here, an attempt would require Defendant to take actions that would have resulted in the consummation of the underlying crime but for circumstances outside of his control, such as actually hiring the magistrate and standing before him ready to take vows. Until that point, Defendant’s actions were mere preparation and he cannot be found to have attempted to contract an incestuous marriage. Reversed and remanded.

    Discussion.

    Under Model Penal Code § 5.01, an attempt is made where a defendant, acting with the kind of culpability required for the commission of the underlying offense, purposefully takes a “substantial step” in the course of committing the underlying crime. Such acts as lying in wait, searching for, or following an intended victim, or scouting a potential crime scene can all be considered substantial steps toward the commission of an underlying crime.


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