Are Evil Intentions A Crime?

It could be said, especially in this time when so many live in constant fear of the possible crimes resulting from increased terrorist activities, that Stephen Spielberg's intent was as much to make a political statement as it was to produce a highly entertaining and dramatically engaging sci-fi film with Minority Report. Ironically, we cannot be sure of Spielberg's intent unless he himself confirmed such to be true. Spielberg's film, Minority Report, envisions a society in which people are arrested for crimes they have not yet committed. How can the government know, with such certainty, that these future crimes will occur?

Three "pre-cogs," genetic freaks possessing the power to see the future, exercise their pre-cognitive abilities through an experimental demonstration of governmental power of intervention. This government program relies on the majority opinion of these pre-cognitive minds to either prevent the commission of intentional crimes, or to punish presently innocent people for their thoughts of criminal activity- depending on one's perspective. Are evil intentions a crime? Arguably the answer is no, considering evil to be a moral reference and not one of criminal nature.

Yet, the law secures a statute to run a circle around this moral dilemma, drafting the Criminal Attempts Act of 1981 ("Attempts") to deem a person guilty of an attempt to commit a crime when it can be shown that sufficient evidence exists to prove the defendant took actions that were "more than merely preparatory to the commission of an offense" and the defendant acted with the intent to commit that offense. The issue at hand then becomes a question of interpretation or perspective, answered in the minds of a judge of jury much like the pre-crimes seen in the minds of the pre-cogs.

The question asks whether the defendant's actions have been sufficiently proven to be considered progressions beyond mere preparations for the crime, and whether the actor possessed a clear intent to commit the offense. In Glendale California, a case against Larry Eugene Phillips presented such a question to the court. During a routine traffic stop, it was discovered that the trunk of the car Phillips was driving contained an extensive arsenal of riffles, ammunition, and other such items considered to be part of a classic "bank robbery kit" (Robinson 4).

The question here was whether or not Phillips was guilty of an attempt to commit robbery, based on the evidence found and the circumstances of his arrest. Under California law, Penal Code section 664 defines criminal attempt whereas "Any person who attempts to commit any crime, but fails, or is prevented or intercepted in the perpetration thereof, is punishable …. " (People v. Staples 2). The broadness of the definition here lends itself to relying necessarily on references to case law for further explanation and precedence.

People v. Buffman provides more specific language regarding criminal attempt. People v. Buffman furthers that, "preparation alone is not enough [to convict for an attempt], there must be some appreciable fragment of the crime committed, it must be in such progress that it will be consummated unless interrupted by circumstances independent of the will of the attempter, and the act must not be equivocal in nature. " By these standards, it can be reasonably argued and agreed that Phillips' actions did not go beyond that of preparation.

He was not at the scene of any potential crime, he had not taken any substantial step toward robbing a bank other than mere acquisition of an arsenal of firearms, ammunition and supplies and a doubtful explanation. And even that evidence does not lead necessarily to the commission of a bank robbery; it is equivocal in nature. Accordingly, a jury agreed and returned a verdict of not guilty. But how far should the government go in criminalizing acts that do not constitute completed crimes, and instead are actions that circumstantially, would precede an offense that would be criminal if it was to take place?

Criminal codes do not restrict themselves to proscribing harmful conduct or results, but also criminalize the various acts that precede harmful conduct. Thus, codes are put in place to punish a perpetrator for agreeing to engage in criminal conduct- conspiracy, soliciting such conduct- incitement, and taking a substantial step toward engaging in such conduct- attempt. Codes also elevate the seriousness of some crimes if they are committed with the purpose of committing some further crimes ("Criminal").

Thus, trespass or breaking and entering becomes attempted burglary if committed with the intention to commit other crimes on the premises. Simple assault can become a more aggravated offense if committed with the intent to kill, to rape, or to maim. Deeming these offenses as criminal, and including provisions to impose the same punishment for an attempt to commit the crime as for the completed criminal act, is thought to offer a deterrent that will help to prevent the people from falling victim to the threat of harm or offense.

If sufficient evidence exists to reasonably show that the actor took steps beyond merely preparatory, and came reasonably close to the commission of the crime, than he or she should not be excused on the basis of failure to carry out the intended crime, whatever the reason. The only exception here is if the actor, by his own will and conscience, made a decision to terminate the commission of the crime and cease all progress towards such on a basis other than the being caught in the act.

On the subjective spectrum of the issue, this position weighs more heavily on the mental state of the actor. Here there is less account for the stage of preparation and more for the mental state of the actor in relation to the preparatory acts. The development of intent in the mind and behaviors of the defendant and the perception of increased likelihood that the actor will willingly and purposefully commit the crime is more likely to warrant legal and judicial intervention.

The court upheld this premise when is reversed the decision of Anderson v. Ryan [1985] AC 560 H/L, ruling that "impossible" crimes; crimes where, unbeknown to the actor, circumstances would make it impossible for the criminal act to be completed, and yet the defendant went beyond preparation and acted with full intent to carry out the crime; were considered an offense. This decision demonstrated the importance of the actor's mental state, mens rea, in determining the criminality of the acts.

Here, the defendant held the belief that the crime could be committed, possessed the intent to complete the criminal act and stepped beyond preparation towards commission of the crime; stopped only by unforeseen circumstances. What mental states are required for these "inchoate crimes"-i. e. , crimes that are preliminary to bringing about the harms that are the criminal law's ultimate concerns? The mental states cannot be identical to those required for completed crimes and completed attempts, for the defendant committing an inchoate crime is aware or believes that there is still time to desist and renounce.

That awareness or belief is at least one qualitative distinction between the mental states of completed and inchoate crimes. From this perspective, having the mens rea to commit the crime and sufficient evidence of progressive actions towards exercising that criminal intent warrant the charge of criminal attempt. The line drawn is subjective, depending on the crime and circumstances, but the foreseeable costs of inaction against significantly potential criminal activity are considered greater than the potential costs of stricter interpretation of inchoate crimes.

While we must acknowledge that the theories of defense and protection rest on forecasting the future, we must also recognize the extraordinary foresight necessary to confirm, with such a degree of certainty, the definitive outcome in the future. It would require a something of a supernatural power to read minds or psychic intuition to guarantee the intentions of another person, as they exist only within his mind. We can only make reasonable assumptions based on sufficient evidence and call into question the facts to support our decision.

Subjectivity emerges as a significant challenge to consistent interpretation of this element of law. If, for example, a person who has the mens rea to commit a crime, but gets no further than the preparatory stages, is not guilty of the crime. The distinction becomes subjective not only in determining where the line marking the end of those preparatory stages will fall, but also in establishing that the actor did possess intent. Intent cannot be conclusively determined; it is a collection of motivating thoughts and reasons providing a purpose for a person's actions.

Intent can only be proven as far as being a reasonable assumption, drawn on the basis of facts and relying on the common sense of a reasonable person to draw a likely conclusion. While evidence can prove the facts of a case- what acts were undertaken by the defendant, etc. – it becomes notably more difficult, if not impossible, to prove that these acts were undertaken with the intent to culminate with the completion of an ultimate criminal act.

As in the case of Larry Eugene Phillips and Emil Matasareanu, the two men found in possession of what the experts deemed a typical "bank robbery kit" during a routine traffic stop, to find them liable for attempted robbery would call on the assumption that the supply of weapons and accessories was intended for use in a bank robbery (Robinson 4). Further, one would have to find that gathering and transporting such a supply would constitute an act that is considered more than merely preparatory to the commission of the offense of robbery.

Such a finding would be highly subjective, especially among a jury of common citizens unfamiliar with precedents set by other cases of similar nature. Even then, the jury would be to follow their intuition. While it may seem likely or even probable based on common assumptions or judgments, it is entirely possible that the two men had no such intentions. The bottom line is that regardless of how suspicious the evidence may seem, we cannot prove that they in fact intended to commit robbery. That claim is merely a circumstantial assumption.