State v. Mitchell


State v. Mitchell

"State v. Mitchell", 170 Mo. 633, 71 S.W. 175 (1902), is a precedent-setting decision of the Supreme Court of Missouri which is part of the body of case law involving the prosecution of failed attempts to commit a crime. In United States law, cases involving failed criminal attempts can bring up interesting legal issues of whether the crime was unsuccessful due to factual impossibility or to legal impossibility.cite book
first=
last=
authorlink=
coauthors= Richard M. Bonnie, Anne M. Coughlin, John C. Jefferies, Jr. & Peter W. Low
title= Criminal Law
publisher= The Foundation Press
date= 1997
location= Westbury, NY
pages=p. 251
isbn =1-56662-448-7
]

Background

Mistakes of fact was rarely an adequate defense at common law. In the United States, 37 states have ruled out mistake of fact as a defense to charges of attempt. Mistakes of law have proved a more successful defense.

Mistakes of fact

A "factual" impossibility occurs when, at the time of the attempt, the facts make the intended crime impossible to commit, even though the defendant is unaware of this when the attempt is made. In "People v. Lee Kong", 95 Cal. 666, 30 P. 800 (1892), a case from the Supreme Court of California, the defendant was found guilty of 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.cite web
author= George P. Fletcher
url=http://books.google.com/books?id=lSnomFVuka8C&pg=PA149&lpg=PA149&dq=%22state+v+mitchell%22+1902&source=web&ots=UcOMerGz4M&sig=6-KfzObs3E-21vaJ6U-0KhpWTD4
title=Rethinking Crimimal Law
publisher=Oxford University Press
pages= pp. 149–151
accessdate=2008-01-09
] Another case involving the defense of factual impossibility is the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania's decision in Commonwealth v. Johnson, 167 A. 344, 348 (Pa. 1933), in which a wife intended to put arsenic in her husband's coffee but by mistake added the customary sugar instead. Later, she felt repentant and confessed her acts to the police. She was arrested, tried, and convicted of attempted murder. In "United States v. Thomas", 13 U.S.C.M.A. 278 (1962), the United States Court of Military Appeals 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 the sexual intercourse took place. [cite web
author
url=http://www.4lawschool.com/criminal/thomas.shtml
title=Criminal Law & Criminal Procedure Case Briefs - United States v. Thomas - Court of Military Appeals, 1962
publisher=
accessdate=2008-01-10
]

Mistakes of law

An act that is considered legally impossible to commit is traditionally considered a valid defense for a person 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 those acts fail to fulfill all the required common law elements of a crime. Mistake of law has proved a successful defense. An example of a legally failed attempt is a person who shoots a tree stump; that person can not 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.cite web
author
url=http://okcca.net/online/oujis/oujisrvr.jsp?oc=OUJI-CR%202-15
title=Attempt -Impossiblity Unavailable as a Defense
publisher=Oklahoma Jury Instructions
accessdate=2008-01-10
]

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. That person was originally convicted for attempting to kill a protected animal out of season but, 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.

Facts of the case

In Mitchell, the defendant fired shots into a room at night where his intended victim usually slept, intending to murder the victim. One bullet struck the victim's usual pillow. But the defendant did not know that the victim was sleeping elsewhere that particular night. Using these circumstances (that the bed was empty), the defendant pleaded not guilty on the grounds that the intended crime was factually impossible to commit, as there was no victim in the room into which he fired.

At trial, the defendant was found guilty of attempted murder. The fact that the intended crime was impossible for the defendant to commit was not considered a defense for the charge of attempting to commit a felony, in this case murder.cite book
last =
first =
coauthors =Charles W. Thomas & Donna M. Bishop
title =Criminal Law: Understanding Basic Principles
publisher =Sage
date =1988
location =Beverly Hills, CA
pages = | url =
doi =
id =
isbn = 0-8039-2669-3
]

The defendant then appealed his judgment of conviction and sentence.

Decision

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Missouri affirmed Mitchell's conviction and sentence, holding that objective itself was criminal in nature and only a circumstance unknown to the defendant prevented its completion. The court held that a person who shoots into the bed of another person on purpose, believing that person to be in the bed, is guilty of attempted murder.cite web
author=David Brody
url=http://books.google.com/books?id=2ipUSeStAzQC&pg=PA566&lpg=PA566&dq=%22state+v+mitchell%22+1902&source=web&ots=dgZ9oxaQVy&sig=kxMxAW_RegX2S7dsWcHdquXTtaE
title=Criminal Law
publisher=Jones and Barrett
accessdate=2008-01-09
] The court ruled that "when the consequences sought by a defendant are forbidden by law as criminal, it is not defense that the defendant could not succeed in reaching his goal because of circumstances unknown to him.

Significance

This case is part of a body of law developed in the United States on the issue of how to handle attempt cases. In most United States jurisdictions, the defense that the act was a factual impossibility is not a valid defense. A case similar to this one is "State v. Moretti" 52 N.M. 182, 244 A.2d 499 (1968), in which the defendant agreed to perform an illegal abortion upon a female undercover officer. Although the female police officer was not pregnant, the Supreme Court of New Mexico upheld the conviction:

With few exceptions, all cases in which an attempt to commit a felony was impossible to carry out because the defendant was mistaken in fact have been categorized as factually impossible and the conviction was upheld on appeal.cite web
author= John Hasnas
url=http://www.law.gmu.edu/assets/files/publications/working_papers/02-29.pdf
title=Once More unto the Breach:The Inherent Liberalism of the Criminal Law and Liability for Attempting the Impossible
publisher=George Mason University School of Law - Hastings Law Journal
date=2002
pages= p. 13
accessdate=2008-01-10
]

References

External links

* [http://okcca.net/online/oujis/oujisrvr.jsp?oc=OUJI-CR%202-15 Attempt - Impossibility Unavailable as a Defense]


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Mitchell County, Georgia — Mitchell County Courthouse (Built 1936), Camilla, Georgia …   Wikipedia

  • State Parks in Michigan — Dies ist die Liste der State Parks im US Bundesstaat Michigan. Sie werden vom Michigan Department of Natural Resources jurisdiction betrieben, der zudem 14 State Harbors an den Große Seen unterhält. Fayette Historic State Park …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Mitchell Freeway — Mitchell Freeway …   Wikipedia

  • State Library of New South Wales — State Library of New South Wales, Mitchell Wing, exterior …   Wikipedia

  • Mitchell County, North Carolina — Seal …   Wikipedia

  • Mitchell Caverns — The Mitchell s Caverns, within the Mitchell Caverns Natural Preserve, are a trio of limestone caves, located on the east side of the Providence Mountains at an elevation of 4300 ft (1311 m), within the Providence Mountains State Recreation… …   Wikipedia

  • Mitchell, South Dakota —   City   Corn Palace in Mitchell …   Wikipedia

  • Mitchell County, Texas — The Mitchell County Courthouse in Colorado City …   Wikipedia

  • Mitchell County, Kansas — Location in the state of Kansas …   Wikipedia

  • Mitchell County, Iowa — Courthouse located in Osage is on the NRHP …   Wikipedia


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.