There are three types of inchoate crimes or crimes that revolve around a person not actually committing the crime but rather planning it to some degree. Attempt is one of the inchoate crimes. This type of crime is a crime where the defendant’s actions have demonstrated that he or she has the actual intent of committing the crime itself. In the world of attempt, there are two types: completed attempts and incomplete attempts.
Complete attempts are those attempts where the defendant goes through with the crime but something goes wrong and they do not get the desired result. For example, attempted murder could be where the defendant fires the gun at the intended victim but misses. He or she had the intent to commit murder and was all set but had terrible aim and so didn’t achieve the desired result.
Incomplete attempts are harder to judge. In this type of attempt, the defendant’s plan has been foiled somehow before he or she even gets to fire a gun or light a match. They are harder to judge because they come much closer to punishing for thought. Incomplete attempts usually rely on how far the defendant actually was from fully attempting the crime.
The Dangerous Proximity Test, as developed by Justice Oliver W. Holmes, asks a jury to judge the defendant’s proximity to his or her goal. So if the goal is one of setting fire to a house, the question becomes how close was the defendant to actually setting fire to the house? If he has the matches, the accelerant, etc. and all he has to do is set the house on fire, the jury may find him or her guilty of attempted arson. However, if the defendant merely has matches in his or her possession, it is much more difficult to make the charge stick as there isn’t really anything inherently wrong with buying a box of matches.