Water pistols and the law

Can you be done for attempted murder if you try to squirt someone to death with a water pistol ?

Can you be done for armed robbery if you threaten a teller with a water pistol, and it’s obvious that it IS a water pistol ?

For your first question, technically, yes, at least in Illinois.

In the UK, you would be taking a chance, even walking down the street with anything that looks realistic. Trying to hold up a bank with a water pistol would be taken seriously since no one can know for sute that it doesn’t squirt some nasty chemical.

If you "try to squirt someone to death " you are attempting murder. The weapon is relevant but not crucial.

“be done for”?

It’s British, it means ‘get arrested for’.

Regarding the bank one, the act of demanding money is the offense. The weapon or lack thereof is irrelevant. Even if they laugh at your water pistol and refuse to give you money, you’re still guilty.

I’d think that if you didn’t claim you were attempting to drown the person, it would be an awfully hard case for the prosecutor to prove that was your intent, due to the absurdity of it. If you did claim you were trying to drown the person, that would help your insanity plea.

You aren’t guilt of armed robbery though, or any other offence based on possession of a weapon. And as for attempted murder, should you attempt to kill someone by squirting them to death with water from a squirt gun then a diminished capacity defense would be very successful if you were prosecuted. Not even your own diminished capacity, the case will get thrown out based on the prosecutors diminished capacity.

Now, “Give me the money” - to me that’s unquestionably a demand.

But if you say "give me the money or I will squirt - are you making a demand, or offering a choice ?

Such as getting in my car in the driveway, with a water pistol in my pocket (or a real gun, it apparently doesn’t matter) but the battery is dead so the car doesn’t start, foiling my plan — that would pretty clearly meet this definition of “substantial step”.

The stock in trade of a modern police state is a gotcha criminal code, in which the police can round up anybody they wish, and find a crime to match.

No no. In any jurisdiction I can think of, if you present what appears to be a weapon against the reasonable man/woman, then you will face weapons related charges. The victim is not required to figure out what sort of gun you are holding.

So YES to a charge of attempted armed robbery of the teller.

If the victim of your water pistol is a child or person who cannot distinguish why a complete stranger is shooting a gun at them (eg. my elderly mum who has a heart attack) then YES, you could certainly face a serious assault charge, even manslaughter.

But not murder. You have the actus reas but not the mens rea.

I don’t agree completely with any of the above and this in particular:

I think just really shouldn’t be a GQ response; it’s wrong.

The water pistol scenario is going to depend on the jurisdiction but in terms of general legal principles, Model Penal Code 5.05 (2) is the most relevant provision:

My emphasis. So if the person who wants to murder someone with water is just so goofy and unreasonable that under the circumstances it doesn’t seem worth prosecuting, there’s your out, even though (contrary to the above) the person certainly has the mens rea for an attempted murder – they’re trying to murder somebody.

The armed robbery question is easier - if it’s an aggravating offense that you were armed, it’s not going to matter that you weren’t really armed, because it’s going to be extraordinarily difficult for you to argue that you brandished something kinda like a gun but weren’t intending to put other people in fear of their lives with it.

If I say I am going to go and kill somebody, and get in my car with that stated intention, the fact of getting into my car and turning the key is a substantial step toward the commission of the crime, regardless of whether the gun I take with me is a Glock or a water pistol. Once intent to murder is established, it could be argued that the failure of the water pistol would lead to a quick look around for a more effective blunt instrument or something. In the prosecutor’s mind, intent would carry more weight than tactical acumen, in making the “attempted murder” case.

I disagree.

Making a threat is an offence but it is not attempted murder because there is no actus reas - no means to commit the crime. At that moment.

You added an additional fact, but in any event, turning a key is not strongly corroborative of an intent to shoot someone at a different location. Driving to where they were and parking in a hidden location, sure, but your approach would encompass any step at all, not just a substantial step. Walking toward the driveway would meet your definition. Getting up off the couch would meet it. Looked at another way, if the defendant said at trial “sure, I said I wanted to kill him, and sure, I had a water pistol, but I got in my car to go home,” is there evidence to strongly suggest that wasn’t the case?

A mere threat that does not cause any harm is generally not actionable

“I will squirt you to death with this squirt gun” is not a threat of violence or harm except in some exceptional circumstances.

So, what about making a burnt offering to beseech some supreme being to kill someone for you? Substantive step?

That depends -
(bad squirter joke there)

What if you try to kill someone with voodoo, or evil thoughts? What if you step on a crack in an attempt to break your mother’s back?

Re: the burnt offerings and voodoo: technically yes, you’re committing a crime, because attempt is about intent/belief – so if the person genuinely believes that they’ve set something in motion that’s going to lead in somebody’s death, that’s the guilty state of mind we’re looking for – but see above re: “inherently unlikely to result or culminate in the commission of a crime.”

Back in my days as an Instructor, I always tried to phrase any threats I made to my students in such a manner that if it went to a court martial, my defense could ask “Did you really believe Petty Officer Lastname was going to rip your arm off and beat you over the head with the bloody stump?” One class had them make up a name badge for me saying “Petty Officer Sluggo”. :slight_smile:

Actually, asking for the phone number so we could tell their mother on them turned out to be a surprising effective threat. Especially after the student commented on the joke to another instructor and the other instructor would ask “You think he was joking about telling your mother on you?”