Criminal Law, Pages 464–469

State v. Reeves

Supreme Court of Tennessee, 1996

Facts:

Reeves and Coffman, two twelve-year-old girls, decided to kill their homeroom teacher, Geiger, with rat poison and then steal her car and run away. On her way to school to carry this plan out, Coffman showed her packet of rat poison to a girl on the bus however who informed Geiger of the plan. When Geiger entered her classroom, she saw the girls leaning over her desk. The girls giggled and ran back to their seats without poisoning Geiger's drink, but Coffman left her purse with the rat poison in it on the desk next to Geiger's coffee cup.

Procedural History:

Reeves and Coffman were found to be delinquent based on the jury's finding that they had attempted to commit second degree murder.

Issue:

Did defendant's actions constitute attempted murder?

Rules:

  • LexisNexis IconWestLaw LogoGoogle Scholar LogoPage 467
    Tenn. Code Ann. § 39–12–101

    A person commits criminal attempt who, acting with the kind of culpability otherwise required for the offense:

    . . .

    1. Acts with intent to complete a course of action or cause a result that would constitute the offense, under the circumstances surrounding the conduct as the person believe them to be, and the conduct constitutes a substantial step toward the commission of the offense.
  • LexisNexis IconWestLaw LogoGoogle Scholar LogoPage 468
    Model Penal Code § 5.01(2)

    (2) Conduct which may be held substantial step . . . . [T]he following . . . shall not be held insufficient as a matter of law:

    . . .

    1. possession of materials to be employed in the commission of the crime, which are specially designed for such unlawful use or which can serve no lawful purpose of the actor under the circumstances;
    2. possession, collection or fabrication of materials to be employed in the commission of the crime, at or near the place contemplated for its commission, where such possession, collection or fabrication serves no lawful purpose of the actor under the circumstances;

Reasoning:

The Tennessee statute is based on the Model Penal Code, which explicitly says that such possession constitutes a substantial step to commit a crime. While the Tennessee legislature did not include these examples in its statute, it did not indicate that it intended to retain the common law distinction between "mere preparation" and the "act itself." To require the act itself to be committed would endanger the public and undermine the preventative goal of attempt law. The defendants may not have been able to have been stopped if they had already poisoned Geiger's coffee.

Holding:

Yes, defendant's actions constituted a substantial step towards murder and thus an attempt to commit it. Affirmed.

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