Essay on Should the Crime of Attempted Murder Carry a Lighter Sentence Than That of Murder?
Number of words: 2167
There is no other crime in the world that attracts a hefty punishment than the crime of murder, intentionally or unlawfully taking human life. Compared to other crimes, including espionage and treason murder is the only crime that is more likely to attract the punishment of death, although not in all countries. For instance, in the United Kingdom, death penalty punishment for people accused of murder was abolished in the 1960s and replaced with a mandatory life sentence (Steiker and Steiker, 2019, p.67). It is important to note that there is a great difference between murder and attempted murder. More importantly, there is considerable debate about how individuals charged with attempted murder should be punished. According to Roberts (2013, p.243), a crime of attempted murder is charged when an individual plan to commit murder or try to conduct the killing, but for an unknown reason, the individual is unable to accomplish it. Attempted murder is a serious crime, and in some countries, it attracts the same punishment as murder (Roberts, 2013, p.244). There is a controversial debate whether or not it is justifiable to punish attempted murders less severely than successful murders. For instance, some believe that people should not be punished based on the likelihood of their actions. Others agree that punishing attempts is a great way to deter murder before it even happens. Regardless of the reasons punishing a person for a wrong they have not done is unjustifiable. Attempted murder should carry a lighter sentence than a successful murder.
The reason this concept is controversial is that many philosophers insist that the success or failure of a criminal action depends on factors outside the criminal’s control. While the United Kingdom criminal justice system is viewed as a reflection of people’s moral values, it would be reasonable to conclude that people tend to judge others based on the outcome of their actions morally. More importantly, if the society agrees with the notion that criminals are not in control of their actions, then concluding whether a criminal will be purely judged as good or bad is left in the hands of luck (Enoch, 2010, p.47). Another reason why this issue is controversial revolves around whether or not an individual who inflicts harm is morally blameworthy than the individual who fails in his or her attempt to harm. It is worth noting that these two controversial positions about the punishment of murder and attempted murder provide a wide range of philosophical arguments.
One primary philosophical argument can be found in Thomas Nagel’s essay titled “Moral Luck.” Nagel’s essay presents a platform for numerous philosophical discussions about the nature of punishments that should be accorded to a successful and a failed murder attempt (Anderson, 2019, p.7). The essay compared and contrasted five different opinions from different authors who convey differing beliefs on punishment. More importantly, in the article, Nagel insisted on Immanuel Kant’s philosophy about the relationship between luck and morality. He instead that good or bad luck should not influence humanity’s moral judgment of an individual and his actions, and importantly, it should not affect the criminal’s ethical assessment of him or herself (Anderson, 2019, p.9). In the essay, Nagel also noted that although the success or the failure of human action depends on factors beyond human control, these actions are nevertheless, preceded by a self-reflective and societal moral judgment that assesses human goodness or badness (Anderson, 2019, p.11). Because human actions and inaction largely depend on factors beyond human control, then moral luck is the good and bad luck from the uncontrollable factors and their effect on the subsequent evaluation of moral standings.
The United Kingdom’s constitution and laws are based on the fundamental of justice and fairness. Therefore, it would be uneven to punish an attempt in the same as actual murder (Clugston et al., 2019, p.909). In other words, the basics of law would seem weak and unsteady. Showcasing a weak judicial system should not be an option in the United Kingdom. For this reason, a failed murder attempt should count as a lesser offense, and more importantly, it should attract less severe punishment. Also, it would be harsh to include severe penalties for attempted murder is because the criminal justice system requires criminal liability to be based on choice but not chance (Clugston et al., 2019, p.910). In other words, this means that people are judged on what they freely and responsibly do but not what happens as a matter of chance. This notion is supported by the rational choice theory, which states that human beings are reasoning actors who weigh the results of their actions to conclude on a rational choice (Paternoster, Jaynes and Wilson, 2017, p.853). A successful murder would be categorized under this theory. In other terms, it would be right to say that the criminal adequately planned, weighed the benefits of his or her actions, and succeeded in killing. The liabilities of a successful murder are way significant than attempted murder. Hence liability should be determined by the outcome of an individual’s actions, not by objective aspects.
An attempt to kill is similar to an effort to save someone, and the society should not hold anyone liable for the failures in both ends. However, it is essential to note that people are more prone to commend failure to save lives. In most cases, this is a success for the individual who has done what he could to save a life. The actor, in this case, is commended for bravery and the subjective character displayed. However, the failure to save a life was barred by factors beyond the actor’s control, and more importantly, the failure diminishes the actor’s credit. In like manner, an individual charged with an attempted murder cannot take credit for his or her failure. Also, the failure should not affect the individual’s moral status. This should be the base on which society should draw its argument. The law should not punish attempted murder the same way it punishes murder as there is credit difference.
Some scholars compare attempted murder to thinking about murder or an intention to conduct murder. If attempted murder is similar to a mere thought, then the society and the law should not punish individuals for thinking. It is morally wrong for a country to punish people for their fantasies and, more importantly, their unexecuted intentions. Criminalizing individuals’ thoughts would display the worst kind of oppression and tyranny. James Fitzjames Stephen (1829-1894), an English lawyer, once said that if a society criminalizes every improper thought, all humanity would be criminals (Stephen and Stephen, 1883, p.7). Most would live most of their lives trying to punish each other for offenses, which could never be proved (Stephen and Stephen, 1883, p.7). Herbert Lionel Adolphus Hart (1907-1992), a British philosopher, also had similar opinions. According to Hart, it would be challenging to track unlawful thoughts, and more importantly, it would be immoral to punish people for intentions to commit crimes. To punish bare intention would be utterly intolerable. Punishing an attempted murder is like punishing people for their intentions; it is the worst kind of oppression and tyranny a government does.
Apart from bare intentions, some individuals plan the execution; however, due to unforeseen events or chance, the murder attempt fails. It would be appropriate to place people in this group of attempted murder in a separate category. They not only thought about the crime acted it in real life situation. The difference nonetheless, is that they did not succeed in the actual murder; therefore, they are not liable. But punishing this group with the same standards used in punishing those who succeed is in like manner unbalanced. Hence there is a need to introduce lighter sentences on this group. In most cases, successful murderers are penalized as per retributive justice. The retributive theory of punishment is the oldest justification for punishment (Lewis, 1989, p.57). It argues that individuals are punished based on the crimes they conducted. In other words, this theory suggests that people be judged according to the crimes they did or an eye for an eye philosophy. The penalty given in this case is equivalent to the harm caused; therefore, a successful murder would likely attract the death penalty. The retributive theory’s importance is that it signifies that no person shall be punished unless he or she has engaged in the crime.
Retributive punishment is also practical for people accused of attempted murders, but placing harsh punishments, including the death penalty or life imprisonment, would seem misleading. The United Kingdom judicial system views attempted murder as a mens rea, which refers to criminal intent. Mens rea is also referred to as having a guilty mind; nevertheless, there are different ways to view this situation. The intention in mens rea can be divided into two different intents: direct intent and oblique intent (Schweitzer et al., 2011, p.363). Direct intent is straightforward and exists where the actor embarks on a course of conduct in which the result occurs as the actor perceived. For instance, a husband intends to kill his wife; hence to achieve this, he picks a knife sharpens it and then stabs her killing her. In this case, the conduct achieved the desired result. On the other hand, oblique intent exists where the actor embarks on a course of conduct to attain the desired outcome knowing very well that his actions will result in the death of other people (third parties) (Stephen and Stephen, 1883, p.7). For instance, a husband embarks on conduct to kill his wife. The husband knows that the wife will be on a particular plane; therefore, he places a bomb on the plane, and everyone, including the passengers, ends up dead. In this case, the husband is no less guilty in killing the passengers than his wife as he knew that death would happen as the result of his actions. The husbands in both contexts achieved their results despite their various means. So under this condition, it would be right and reasonable to judge the actors as per the retributive justice. The reformative theory of punishment would be practical for attempted murder as it acts as a warning but, more importantly, aims to transform the offender (Schweitzer et al., 2011, p.363). The objective of the reformative theory of punishment is to reform the criminal by utilizing various positive methods. This theory is based on a humanistic principle that an offender is still a human being regardless of their actions.
The crime of attempted murder should attract a lighter sentence, or the sentence should be abolished altogether. Punishing an individual for a crime he or she has not committed is unjustifiable. The United Kingdom criminal justice system and many other criminal justice systems that harshly punish attempted murder are established to understand that both successful and failed murder attempts are equally heinous, which is often not the case. A person who plans and succeeds in killing should not be compared to the person who planned but failed simply because the two instances differ significantly. Moreover, to punish people for planning is similar to punishing people for thinking, which is morally incorrect as it violates the value of fairness and justice placed on the law and, more importantly, the judicial system. It is similar to punishing people for bare thoughts, which is utterly intolerable. Nonetheless, if the urge to punish people accused of attempted murder is strong, then a lighter punished should be included. The reformative theory of punishment should be used in this case as it aims at reforming the individual. The crime of attempted murder should attract a more humanistic punishment, and there is no other theory of punishment that supports a humanistic punishment than the reformative theory of punishment.
Anderson, M., 2019. Moral luck as moral lack of control. The Southern Journal of Philosophy, 57(1), pp.5-29.
Clugston, B., Green, B., Phillips, J., Samaraweera, Z., Ceron, C., Gardner, C., Meurk, C. and Heffernan, E., 2019. Interviewing persons with mental illness charged with murder or attempted murder: a retrospective review of police interviews. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 26(6), pp.904-919.
Enoch, D., 2010. Moral luck and the law. Philosophy Compass, 5(1), pp.42-54.
Lewis, D., 1989. The punishment that leaves something to chance. Papers in Ethics and Social Philosophy, pp.55-67.
Paternoster, R., Jaynes, C. and Wilson, T., 2017. Rational choice theory and interest in the “fortune of others”. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 54(6), pp.847-868.
Roberts, K., 2013. Career guidance in England today: reform, accidental injury or attempted murder? British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 41(3), pp.240-253.
Schweitzer, N., Saks, M., Murphy, E., Roskies, A., Sinnott-Armstrong, W. and Gaudet, L., 2011. Neuroimages as evidence in a mens rea defense: No impact. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 17(3), pp.357-393.
Steiker, C. and Steiker, J., 2019. Comparative capital punishment. pp.55-75.
Stephen, J. and Stephen, J., 1883. A History of the Criminal Law of England. London: Macmillan, p.7.