Not every criminal succeeds at crime. Some try their best but fail; others may change their mind and stop short of their initially intended goal. Some are even caught before they can complete their crime. Attempt punishes offenders who intend to commit a crime (referred to here as the “target” crime) and act to implement that intent, but do not achieve their goal.
Attempt is an important law enforcement tool. Police can prevent crime by arresting an offender before he actually commits his target crime. (This is why attempt is sometimes called an inchoate or uncompleted crime.) Attempt also enables the criminal justice system to punish individuals who have acted on their criminal intentions and are dangerous.
Attempt is a crime of recent origin in the common law. Initially, it was usually a misdemeanor. Today, the seriousness of an attempt and its punishment generally depend on the seriousness of the crime attempted. Attempt often carries a lighter penalty than the target crime because the offender has done less harm than a successful criminal. However, except for capital offenses and felonies of the first degree, the Model Penal Code punishes attempt just as severely as the crime attempted because it considers an unsuccessful criminal just as dangerous as a successful one.