Pam Mueller, Psychology

Inchoate Crimes, Inconsistent Decisions and Immorality

Wed, 11/05/2014
029 Robertson Hall
Graduate Students

Please note time and location

Please join us on Wednesday, November 5, for a seminar with Pam Mueller, graduate student in the Department of Psychology.

LEGS, or "Law-Engaged Graduate Students," meets during the academic year to discuss a work in progress by one of our Graduate Associates. Academic papers, dissertation proposals, and dissertation chapters have been presented at these meetings, to an audience of fellow graduate students.

Abstract: "The Model Penal Code (MPC) standard for criminal attempt requires that an individual commit an act or omission “constituting a substantial step in a course of conduct planned to culminate in his commission of the crime.” The MPC does not specifically define what constitutes a substantial step, other than saying that it is something more than mere preparation, and must be “strongly corroborative of the actor’s criminal purpose. Statutes featuring the MPC provision, or substantially similar language, are the law of attempt in the federal system and in a majority of states. However, the vagueness and subjectivity of the MPC standard has led to a confusing array of court decisions.

While completed attempts that invoke legal or factual impossibility are a favorite subject for criminal law classes and have been explored by many noted criminal law scholars, the questions of how and when mere preparation becomes action in cases of incomplete attempt have garnered somewhat less attention. The lack of clarity in this area is also reflected in the unpredictability of decisions in incomplete attempt cases. Past work addressing this issue has primarily relied on philosophical, political, economic, and linguistic theories to support arguments. The present research uses original experimental research to investigate where the line might best be drawn.

In Part I of this Article, I briefly sketch the development of the current law of attempt and discuss one set of approaches that underlie and distinguish two key standards of attempt law. In Part II, I review some of the previous psychological work on lay judgments about mens rea and attempt. In Part III, I report the results of four original studies testing laypeople’s intuitions and judgments regarding inchoate crimes. In Part IV, I review the evidence and conclude that the criminal law would be better served by adopting the minority “dangerous proximity” standard than by clinging to the confusing “substantial step” standard, and describe future work aimed at providing additional support for this argument."