Attempt, Conspiracy, and Aiding

Welcome to FindLaw's Attempt, Conspiracy, and Inchoate Crimes section. One thing these offenses have in common is that the defendant must have had the intent and mental state to commit a crime (or crimes) to be convicted. However, the offender doesn't have to complete the crime for the state to charge and convict them.

In this section, you will find a brief overview of criminal attempt, conspiracy, and other inchoate crimes, such as aiding and abetting.

What Is an Inchoate Offense?

Inchoate crimes are technically incomplete crimes committed to further completion of another crime. You may commit an inchoate offense when you encourage or assist another person to commit an actual crime. Some of the more common inchoate crimes include:

  • Criminal attempt
  • Solicitation
  • The crime of conspiracy
  • Aiding and abetting
  • Accessory after the fact

We will discuss each of these criminal offenses in more detail below. We will also explain what the criminal objective is with each crime.

For each of these crimes, the state must show that you had the specific intent required for the offense. Police can charge you with these crimes for both complete and incomplete crimes. Of course, the penalties will be more severe if the offense is completed.

Some states do not allow defendants to be convicted of multiple inchoate crimes. For example, in Pennsylvania, the court may only convict you of one inchoate offense: attempt, solicitation, or conspiracy "for conduct designed to commit or to culminate in the commission of the same crime."

What Is a Criminal Attempt?

A criminal attempt occurs when an individual tries to commit an illegal act but cannot complete the crime. It does not matter why they failed to do so. They may have had a change of heart. Or the tools they brought to complete the crime may not have worked sufficiently. Sometimes, the police confront an offender during the commission of the crime.

The specific elements of the crime of criminal attempt include:

  • The perpetrator has the specific criminal intent to commit the crime (drives to a convenience store with a gun, planning to rob the store)
  • The individual takes direct action toward the completion of the crime (the defendant enters the store and demands that the clerk turn over all the money in the register)

In the above example, the state can charge the individual with attempted robbery. As long as the jury sees your overt acts as constituting furtherance of a crime, the court may convict you.

If the judge or jury finds you guilty of criminal attempt, the penalties will depend on the planned crime. For example, if you attempted to commit a misdemeanor, your punishment cannot be greater than it would be if you completed the crime. If, on the other hand, you were trying to commit a felony, the penalties will be much more severe.

Criminal Conspiracy

Criminal conspiracy is different from criminal attempt. Criminal conspiracy requires that two or more people agree to commit a specific crime, and at least one co-conspirator must take a substantial step toward the commission of the crime.

The specific requirements for conspiracy include:

  • Agreement: The prosecutor must demonstrate that the defendants discussed committing a specific crime and agreed to commit the criminal act together.
  • Intent: Depending on the crime, the co-conspirators must have the specific intent to follow through with and commit the objective of the conspiracy. For example, for the state to charge you with conspiracy to commit arson, it must prove that you and your co-conspirators intended to set fire to a building or structure and cause harm.
  • Overt Act: It isn't enough that you and your co-defendants wanted to commit a crime or even agreed to do it. The prosecution must show that at least one of the parties took an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy. For instance, imagine you and two friends agree to rob a jewelry store. One of these friends rents a getaway car so you can all flee the scene. That would constitute an overt act under the criminal law.

State laws vary regarding the penalty for the crime of conspiracy. Under federal law, the judge can sentence you to up to five years in prison. You will also face significant fines.

Aiding and Abetting

This crime is what you may imagine it to be. If you help someone commit a crime, the police may charge you with aiding and abetting. The jury can convict you if the state proves you encouraged the offender in some way. The specific elements of this crime are as follows:

  • Somebody committed a crime
  • You intentionally helped, induced, or encouraged the person to commit the crime
  • You took some action to assist in the commission of the crime
  • You acted before the completion of the underlying crime

Most states consider somebody charged with aiding and abetting an accessory to the crime. You can be an accessory before or after the fact. For example, if you lent your friend a crowbar so they could break into a jewelry store, the police can arrest you for aiding and abetting. An accessory before the fact offers assistance with the crime's completion but is usually not present during the commission of the crime.

Accessory After the Fact

If, on the other hand, you let your friends hide in your guesthouse to prevent law enforcement from finding them, you would be an accessory after the fact.

In most states, the penalty for acting as an accessory after the fact is much less than the penalty for being a principal in the commission of the crime or acting as an accessory before the fact to the crime.

In Virginia, for example, an accessory after the fact to almost any felony is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months in jail. However, if the felony is first- or second-degree murder, a person convicted of being an accessory after the fact is guilty of a Class 6 felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

For the judge or jury to convict you of being an accessory after the fact, the state must show that you knew the person had committed a crime. It must also prove that you helped them with the specific intent of avoiding apprehension, trial, or punishment.


The crime of solicitation is not technically an inchoate offense. However, it is related to the other crimes discussed in this section. Solicitation is requesting, demanding, or encouraging another person to commit a crime. The person charged with solicitation must intend to facilitate or assist with the crime.

Depending on which state you live in, you may be charged and convicted of solicitation even if the third party does not receive your request to aid in the commission of a crime. Also, unlike accessories after the fact, you can be charged with solicitation and the underlying offense. The judge will sentence you for both crimes if convicted.

You Don't Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer's Help

You'll face severe penalties if the state charges you with any of the criminal offenses described here. It doesn't matter if the police accuse you of a misdemeanor or first-degree felony. The judge may sentence you to prison time and fines if the jury finds you guilty.

It may be a good idea to talk to a criminal defense lawyer. It would be best if you did this immediately after your arrest. You will be entitled to make a phone call from the police station. That call should be to a criminal defense attorney.

Your attorney will review the criminal statutes in your state and help determine the best possible criminal defense. The state may have to dismiss the charges if your criminal defense lawyer can establish reasonable doubt.

Meeting with a criminal defense attorney can help you understand your options and determine how best to proceed. Visit FindLaw's attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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