Distinction between Intention to Commit, Preparation to Commit & Attempt to Commit a Crime

The Supreme Court has elaborately discussed and considered the distinction between intention to commit, preparation to commit and attempt to commit a crime in Koppula Venkat Rao v. State of Andhra Pradesh, (2004) 3 SCC 602, in paragraphs 8 to 11 which read as under :-

In every crime, there is first, intention to commit, secondly, preparation to commit it, and thirdly, attempt to commit it. If the third stage, that is, attempt is successful, then the crime is complete. If the attempt fails, the crime is not complete, but law punishes the person attempting the act.

Section 511 is a general provision dealing with attempts to commit offences not made punishable by other specific sections. It makes punishable all attempts to commit offences punishable with imprisonment and not only those punishable with death. An attempt is made punishable, because every attempt, although it falls short of success, must create alarm, which by itself is an injury, and the moral guilt of the offender is the same as if he had succeeded. Moral guilt must be united to injury in order to justify punishment. As the injury is not as great as if the act had been committed, only half the punishment is awarded.

A culprit first intends to commit the offence, then makes preparation for committing it and thereafter attempts to commit the offence. If the attempt succeeds, he has committed the offence; if it fails due to reasons beyond his control, he is said to have attempted to commit the offence. Attempt to commit an offence can be said to begin when the preparations are complete and the culprit commences to do something with the intention of committing the offence and which is a step towards the commission of the offence. The moment he commences to do an act with the necessary intention, he commences his attempt to commit the offence.

The word “attempt” is not itself defined, and must, therefore, be taken in its ordinary meaning. This is exactly what the provisions of Section 511 require. An attempt to commit a crime is to be distinguished from an intention to commit it; and from preparation made for its commission. Mere intention to commit an offence, not followed by any act, cannot constitute an offence. The will is not to be taken for the deed unless there be some external act which shows that progress has been made in the direction of it, or towards maturing and effecting it.

Intention is the direction of conduct towards the object chosen upon considering the motives which suggest the choice. Preparation consists in devising or arranging the means or measures necessary for the commission of the offence. It differs widely from attempt which is the direct movement towards the commission after preparations are made.

Preparation to commit an offence is punishable only when the preparation is to commit offences under Section 122 (waging war against the Government of India) and Section 399 (preparation to commit dacoity). The dividing line between a mere preparation and an attempt is sometimes thin and has to be decided on the facts of each case. There is a greater degree of determination in attempt as compared with preparation.

An attempt to commit an offence is an act, or a series of acts, which leads inevitably to the commission of the offence, unless something, which the doer of the act neither foresaw nor intended, happens to prevent this. An attempt may be described to be an act done in part-execution of a criminal design, amounting to more than mere preparation, but falling short of actual consummation, and, possessing, except for failure to consummate, all the elements of the substantive crime.

In other words, an attempt consists in it the intent to commit a crime, falling short of, its actual commission or consummation/completion. It may consequently be defined as that which if not prevented would have resulted in the full consummation of the act attempted. The illustrations given in Section 511 clearly show the legislative intention to make a difference between the cases of a mere preparation and an attempt.

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