Overt Act Law and Legal Definition

An overt act, in the context of criminal law, is an action which might be innocent itself but if part of the preparation and active furtherance of a crime, can be introduced as evidence of a defendant's participation in a crime. Although the mere contemplation or intention to commit a crime is insufficient to convict a person of a criminal attempt, conspiracy or treason, a manifestation of such an intent by an overt act is sufficient.

The overt act required to charge someone with an attempted crime goes beyond preparatory steps and is a direct movement toward the commission of the offense. For example, a purchase of matches with the intent to burn a haystack is not an attempt to commit arson, but it is an attempt to commit arson to applying a burning match to a haystack, even if no fire results. The overt act need not be the last act essential to the consummation of the offense.