CA Penal Code 664 & 21(a) PC

PC 664, 21(a) – Attempted Crimes

PC 664 and 21(a) - Attempted Crimes

Attempted Crimes – Table of Contents

The Meaning of “Attempted Crimes” Penal Code 664/21(A)

California Attempted crimes Penal Code 664/21(a), It is well understood that the commission of a crime is punishable in the state of California, the country, and throughout the world. This is not a surprise to anyone. But, for some reason, people can sometimes have a hard time understanding why even attempting a crime and not bringing it all the way to fruition can also saddle someone with harsh penalties and incarceration. Therefore, it is important to understand that attempting crimes Penal Code 664/21(A) is its own separate offense in California with its own set of unique elements, punishments, and defenses.

California attempted crimes Penal Code Section 664 PC codifies the meaning and punishments of “attempting” to commit a crime in the state of California. The language of California attempted crimes Penal Code Section 664 is somewhat convoluted, stating essentially that any individual who attempts to commit any crime, but is unable to bring the crime to fruition due to their own failure to do so or through an outside agent’s prevention or interception prior to perpetration, will still be punished.

In addition to this, California attempted crimes Penal Code Section 21(a) PC lays out the main elements of the attempting to commit a crime. California attempted crimes Penal Code Section 21(a) PC states, “An attempt to commit a crime consists of two elements: a specific intent to commit the crime, and a direct but ineffectual act done toward its commission.”

Taken together, these two California attempted crimes Penal Code Sections lay the groundwork for the in-between, gray-area that is the attempted crime. Below, we will further examine for California attempted crimes Penal Code 664/21(a) in the context of the working elements and components, the potential penalties, and the common defenses if accused of such.

Elements of California PC 664/21(a)

As noted in the definition of California Attempted Crimes Penal Code Section 21(a) PC, attempting to commit a crime in California is comprised of two main elements. This is further elucidated in the Judicial Council of California’s Criminal Jury Instructions. These Instructions are what is provided to an empaneled jury in a given case, so understanding them is critical to not only comprehending a given crime, but also in defending against an allegation of such properly and effectively. The Judicial Council of California’s Criminal Jury Instructions state that, in order for the prosecution to prove an individual’s guilt of attempting to commit a crime, they need to prove that:

  1. The individual took a direct but ineffective step toward committing the crime; AND
  2. The individual in fact intended to commit said crime.

To enhance our understanding of the elements of attempting to commit a crime, it is essential to further define both “direct step” and “intended” in the above two elements.

As noted in the Jury Instructions:

A direct step requires more than merely planning or preparing to commit a serious crime, or obtaining or arranging for something needed to commit said crime. A direct step is one that goes beyond planning or preparation and shows that a person is putting his or her plan into action. A direct step indicates a definite and unambiguous intent to commit the crime.

Using this thorough definition of direct step, it is possible to delve deeper into our understanding of this element. The Jury Instructions provide more detail, signifying that a direct step has to be something concrete, like a “direct movement towards the commission of the crime after preparations are made.” Explaining this element even further, the Jury Instructions tell us that the direct step is something akin to “…an immediate step that puts the plan in motion so that the plan would have been completed if some circumstance outside the plan had not interrupted the attempt.” This requirement, therefore is quite explicit. The direct step cannot simply be a desire to commit a crime, or even taking small steps in the direction of the crime. Instead, it must be a demonstrably evident step toward the commission of the crime that, but for some intervening cause, would have come to fruition. If the plan to commit the crime is abandoned at any time before this direct step, the individual cannot be found guilty. The direct step, therefore, represents a rubicon or red line, across which is the point of no return.

Turning next to the element of intention, the critical elements of knowledge and willfulness come into play. As seen in almost all crimes, whether within California or without, the Latin phrase mens rea, which translates literally to “guilty mind” in English, plays an outsized role in determining guilt. As part of the foundations of our criminal justice system, most crimes require that the accused individual contained some knowledge and intention coupled with an action in order to be found guilty. The act itself is not enough. Mens rea deals with an individual having the requisite intention or knowledge of wrongdoing needed to be found guilty of that crime. So, in the instance of California attempted crimes Penal Code 664/21(a) then, actual intent must be present and proved by the prosecution in order to find an individual guilty of any attempted crime. By very definition, crimes which do not require specific knowledge or intent, such as involuntary manslaughter, do not qualify under California attempted crimes Penal Code Sections 664 and 21(a) then. Intent must be part of the attempted crime.

What is the Penalty for California Attempted Crimes PC 664/21(a)?

Turning back to California Attempted Crimes Penal Code Section 664, subsection (a) provides the rough outline for the penalties involved in committing an attempted criminal act. Some California attempted crimes Penal Code 664/21(a) carry specific penalties. However, in the absence of a specific penalty, the punishment for an attempted commission of a crime reads as follows under California attempted crimes Penal Code Section 664(a):

If the crime attempted is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison, or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170, the person guilty of the attempt shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison or in a county jail, respectively, for one-half the term of imprisonment prescribed upon a conviction of the offense attempted.

This half-sentence holds true for both misdemeanor as well as felony offenses. There are some exceptions to this rule, however. For example, if the crime is attempted murder in the first degree (meaning that it was done willfully and with premeditation), then the sentence could still be life in prison. This life sentence does however carry with it the possibility of parole. But, if the attempted murder was made against an officer of the peace, a firefighter, or other protected class of person in the service of their duty, then it is still a life sentence, however there is an added mandatory minimum sentence without parole for 15 years. For any other offense other than murder that would carry with it a life sentence if carried through to fruition, the attempted crime could get an individual a sentence of up to nine years in prison.

How Do You Defend Against California Attempted Crimes Penal Code 664/21(A) Charge?

There are three main ways to defend against a charge of attempting to commit a crime. The first two defenses involve attacking the two main elements of the crime. The first such element involves the idea of there being a “direct step.” If an individual can successfully demonstrate that even though they had planned on committing the criminal offense, but instead voluntarily stopped short before the actual direct step, they cannot be found guilty. As noted, the direct step element represents a red line across which there is no turning back. Right up until this red line, however, an individual is not guilty of the attempted criminal offense yet. Therefore, one defense is to argue that no direct step was taken.

The second main defense involves attacking the second element involving intent. If the individual did not specifically intend to commit the alleged criminal offense, they cannot be found guilty of the attempted crime then. As mentioned previously, mens rea factors heavily in criminal law and plays a key role in the establishing elements of many crimes. Therefore, without the requisite intent, the individual cannot be found guilty of the crime of attempt.

The third effective defense to use in these circumstances is to argue that the arresting officers violated the individual’s constitutional rights. As California attempted crimes Penal Code 664/21(a) involve some guesswork and totality of the circumstances evaluation of the facts given the lack of a completed crime, an attempted crime is often ripe for police misconduct or overstepping onto an individual’s rights in the course of investigating. As such, an individual should retain the services of a skilled criminal defense attorney to help evaluate and analyze all procedures involved culminating in the arrest. If the arrest happened without proper cause and in an improper fashion, then an individual’s case could be dismissed on these grounds.

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If you or a loved one has been charged with violating PC 664/21(a), Attempted Crimes in the Southern California area, we invite you to contact us immediately for a free case review.

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