In conclusion, ideation can motivate behavior for good or evil when conscious or subconscious thoughts take precedence as a result of intensity or frequency. Thoughts and ideas do not constitute crimes, but they do serve as the genesis for criminal behavior. However, not all evil thoughts portend evil. Artistic ideas and expressions, violent fantasies and outbursts of anger and emotion can judged immoral or socially unacceptable, but we have built our nation on the freedom of thought and expression.
It is a necessary component of the law to enforce criminal acts that, according to the sufficient evidence, are obviously beyond the boundary of mere preparation for a crime, and cross into what we reasonably consider the preliminary steps of commission. What is unnecessary and a direct threat to the foundation of our governmental protection is prosecution for mere suspicion of criminal activity or based on a theory of intent. Physical exertion provides the link between thought and action.
Depending on the sophistication of the criminal and the complexity of the criminal act, preparatory steps can range from simple to complex. These actions, no matter how stealthy, signal criminal intent to an astute observer. These actions warrant suspicion and should incite the need for further surveillance and more scrutinizing observation in anticipation of an offense, but must remain along the fence of our civil rights and Constitutional protections.
The fear stirred by the recent terrorist attacks, the looming threat of further attack, a war begun on suspicions of involvement in domestic terrorist attacks and suspected weapons of mass destruction has pushed the boundaries of criminal intent to dangerous extremes. The passage of the Patriot Act in 2002 and other such legal statutes that followed attempt to expand the protective powers of our government against foreign attacks. Yet these acts have American citizens locked away, deprived of constitutional rights to due process on charges that they may be "guilty of planning something" by reason of suspicion.
Nat Hentoff, writer for The Progressive, cites the prophecy of Senator Frank Church, when he said in 1975 that future government intelligence capabilities could "at any time be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left–such is the capacity to monitor everything, telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter. " Senator Church, referring to "potential" enemies of the state, warned: "There would be no way to fight back because the most careful effort to combine together resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know"(Hentoff 2002).
Are evil intentions a crime? The answer falls within a gray area of the law, the subjective nature of which can ignite a spectrum of reasonable responses. Majority opinion, represented by the outcome of trials raising such questions and decided by juries and judges, reflects the belief that some substantial and observable acts toward the commission of an intended crime be shown. Furthermore, these acts must be considered reasonable by the deciding party, and have been carried out with "mens rea," or evil mind.
Although this speaks to the general immorality of motive or vicious will, suspicion of such intent is not enough by itself to substantiate criminal attempt. Under Constitutional law, the defendant must have acted with the willing and knowing desire to cause harm, and acted with the knowledge that the social harm is virtually certain to occur as a result of his conduct It can be argued that evil intentions, in and of themselves, are not a crime. Intent can be defined as a course of action that one intends to follow; an aim that guides an action; an objective. By this definition, it would seem that no observable action has taken place.
Intentions may remain as such, unfulfilled, and never manifest into actions or criminal attempt. Instead, intention refers to the motivation of a person, having the potential and desire to carry out acts that could lead to the commission of a crime. Criminal attempt requires that this intent, along with sufficient evidence of actions taken beyond mere preparation for the crime be established. By this definition, mere intentions are not enough to constitute a crime. To consider suspected or presumed intent sufficient grounds for an attempt charge would be a subjection of a person's thoughts subject to criminal prosecution.
Returning to the question at hand, are evil intentions a crime? In the futuristic society of Spielberg's Minority Report, people are arrested for crimes they have not yet committed. How can the government, or anyone for that matter, know that they will commit future crimes? We may think we know what will occur, referring to past experience and our assumptions that a reoccurring series of events will result in the same, inevitable outcome, but this does not always hold true. Each event and each instance is independent in and of itself and is not dependent on prior outcomes.
We cannot know, with absolute certainty, what will happen until it happens. Relying on presumptions or premature conclusions may only lend itself to proving the fallibility of the system. It is necessary that the government not act with excessive haste in determining the merits of inchoate crimes, and reserve judgment pending evaluation of the facts of each case against the letter of the law. While it is vital that our law enforcement be able to anticipate criminal threats before they can take place and secure laws, criminalizing acts that can be reasonably proven to precede crimes, in order to provide a legal and social deterrent from crime.
And while the safety and protection of society and the enforcement of our laws must remain top priority, it must not be done so at the cost of personal freedoms or the guarantee of civil rights which make life in this country worth protecting. If government went so far as to risk shaking the foundation upon which this nation is built in pursuit of those "pre-criminals," the cost of such a witch hunt would be greater than the foreseeable costs of relative inaction.
Attempts Under Criminal Attempts Act of 1981. 24, Nov. 2001. Student Academic Database.15 Sept. 2003 <www. academicdb. com/Law/>. "Criminal Law: an Overview. " 18 Feb. 1999. Legal Info Institute. 20 Sept. 2003 www. law. cornell. edu/topics/criminal/>. Hentoff, Nat. "Attorney General's Guidelines on General Crimes, Racketeering Enterprise and Terrorism Enterprise Investigations. " Progressive. Sept. 2002: 58-60. Kadish, Stanford. Reckless Complicity. Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology. Chicago: Winter 1997. Vol. 87, Iss. 2; p. 369 Kennedy, Joseph. "Making the Punishment Fit the Crime. " Emory Law Journal. 51. 2 (2002): 43.