JUST THE FACTS MA’AM
Can you commit attempted murder with a mannequin?
A man is charged with attempted murder after smashing in the head of a mannequin that is lying in a dark alley underneath a blanket. He is immediately arrested and charged with attempted murder. Could this really happen? It not only can, but it is happening in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The man certainly has a guilty mind, but the mannequin isn’t alive and therefore cannot, under any circumstances, be actually killed.
Here is, we are told, the background of this murder mystery. Someone had been killing, sleeping homeless men, by using a hammer to cave in their skulls. Two homeless men had suffered this fate when the Las Vegas detective squad brainstormed the idea, of setting up a sting, using mannequins.
Sans a heart and a brain the mannequins were placed in alleys as bait; and fished they did. The fish came to the hook and bit. Wham-wham-wham, he swings and caves in the mannequin skulls.
"Stop!, The cops yelled. You’re under arrest!”
The assailant replies, “For what?”
“For attempted murder!”
Well, maybe … or maybe not.
Police say the defendant thought he was striking a sleeping man.
He says he knew it was a mannequin.
Now granted, we can all draw conclusions about what we think he thought, but can we really convict him for the attempted murder of a mannequin? Can we charge people with a crime for having bad thoughts? Not in my mind, but then again we can’t let someone committing murder or attempting to commit murder go free.
So what should be done?
Answer: More police work.
Good police work is what is needed to close this case. Simply tie him to the other two murders.
But what will likely happen? At this point it is anybody’s guess which way this one goes. Factual impossibility apparently hardly ever carries the day. But legal impossibility sometimes does work as an adequate defense.
THE LEGAL DOCTRINE
This legal doctrine in play is known as “impossibility cases”.
If evidence indicates that [a person] used means against another to commit a crime, but mistakenly believed what he was about to do was possible, then his mistake does not excuse him.
SKIP TO WIKIPEDIA
FACTUAL IMPOSSIBILITY: An Impossibility defense is a criminal defense occasionally used when a defendant is accused of a criminal attempt that failed only because the crime was factually or legally impossible to commit. Factual impossibility is rarely an adequate defense at common law.
“An impossibility occurs when, at the time of the attempt, the facts make the intended crime impossible to commit although the defendant is unaware of this when the attempt is made. In People v. Lee Kong, 95 Cal. 666, 30 P. 800 (1892), the defendant was found guilty for attempted murder for shooting at a hole in the roof, believing his victim to be there, and indeed, where his victim had been only moments before but was not at the time of the shooting. Another case involving the defense of factual impossibility is Commonwealth v. Johnson, in which a psychic healer was charged and convicted of fraud, despite the fact that a fictitious name was used to catch him. In United States v. Thomas the court held that men who believed they were raping a drunken, unconscious woman were guilty of attempted rape, even though the woman was actually dead at the time sexual intercourse took place.”
“An act that is considered legally impossible to commit is traditionally considered a valid defense for a person who was being prosecuted for a criminal attempt. An attempt is considered to be a "legal" impossibility when the defendant has completed all of his intended acts, but his acts fail to fulfill all the required in elements of a crime in common law. Mistakes of law have proved a successful defense. An example of a failed attempt of law is a person who shoots at a tree stump, believing that he is committing attempted murder; that person cannot be prosecuted for attempted murder as there is no manifest intent to kill by shooting a stump. The underlying rationale is that attempting to do what is not a crime is not attempting to commit a crime.
However, "legal" and "factual" mistakes are not mutually exclusive. A borderline case is that of a person who shot a stuffed deer, thinking it was alive as was the case in State v. Guffey, (1953) in which a person was originally convicted for attempting to kill a protected animal out of season. In a debatable reversal, an appellate judge threw out the conviction on the basis that it is no crime to shoot a stuffed deer out of season.”