State v. Maestas

In State v. Maestas, 652 P.2d 903 (Utah 1982), the trial court granted the defendant's motion to dismiss his conviction for attempted first degree murder, 4 ruling that "specific intent to kill could not properly be inferred from the evidence." 652 P.2d at 904. The State appealed. On appeal, Maestas argued that, under the common law rule, "an 'attempt' crime must always consist of an intent to commit the corresponding completed crime accompanied by a substantial step toward realization of that crime." Id. He derived this theory "from the common law rule that intent is a necessary element of every 'attempt' crime even where the corresponding completed crime does not require intent as an element." Id. Expanding on this argument, the defendant asserted that "attempted first degree murder . . . requires a 'specific intent' beyond that which would have been required in order to provide first degree murder itself." Id. The Court noted that according to this argument, "the crime of attempted murder would require a stronger showing of intent than does the crime of murder itself." Id. In other words, Maestas argued that the State must prove a greater degree of intent in order to obtain a conviction for attempted murder than to obtain a conviction for murder. Instead of adopting this argument that a greater degree of intent is required for attempted murder, we gave two alternative rationales for upholding the conviction. First, looking to the attempt statute, 5 we held that "Utah law requires only 'the kind of culpability otherwise required for the commission of the completed offense.' Thus, there can be no difference between the intent required as an element of the crime of attempted first degree murder and that required for the first degree murder itself." Id. (quoting Utah Code Ann. 76-4-101(1) (1978)). The Court rejected the notion that attempted murder required a different, higher degree of culpability than a murder conviction. Second, the Court noted that the common law rule differentiated "between an attempted crime and completed crime only where the completed crime may be committed without the intent to commit that crime in particular." Id. at 905. Where an intent to commit the particular crime committed is an element of the completed crime, the same intent requirement applies to the corresponding "attempt" crime, even at common law. Thus, Utah's first degree murder statute, which does contain such an intent requirement, would not fall within the rule cited by defendant even under common law principles. Id. This holding indicated that attempted murder required an intent to commit the particular crime as an element of the offense and ignored the fact that, by definition, a murder conviction could rest on either knowing or intentional conduct. Though the Court concluded that a conviction for attempted murder only required the same mental state necessary to obtain a murder conviction, we failed to acknowledge the distinction between acting knowingly and intentionally. Instead, we merely examined "the evidence tending to indicate that Maestas intentionally fired his revolver," id. , and held that "substantial evidence supported the jury in finding that the state had established both the act and the intent components of attempted first degree murder," id. at 907. The Court focused on whether the evidence showed the defendant acted intentionally without considering whether he acted knowingly.