Law School Case Brief
People v. Superior Court (Decker) - 41 Cal. 4th 1, 58 Cal. Rptr. 3d 421, 157 P.3d 1017 (2007)
For an attempt to commit murder, an overt act must go beyond mere preparation and show that the killer is putting his or her plan into action; it need not be the last proximate or ultimate step toward commission of the crime or crimes, nor need it satisfy any element of the crime. However, between preparation for the attempt and the attempt itself, there is a wide difference. The preparation consists in devising or arranging the means or measures necessary for the commission of the offense; the attempt is the direct movement toward the commission after the preparations are made. It is sufficient if it is the first or some subsequent act directed towards that end after the preparations are made.
Defendant Ronald Decker hired an assassin, who was actually an undercover police detective, to kill his sister Donna Decker and her friend Hermine Riley Bafiera. He provided the assassin with a description of his sister, her home, her car, and her workplace, as well as specific information concerning her daily habits. He also advised the assassin to kill Hermine if necessary to avoid leaving a witness behind. Decker and the hired assassin agreed on the means to commit the murder, the method of payment, and the price. The parties also agreed that Decker would pay $5,000 in cash as a downpayment. Before Decker handed over the money, the assassin asked whether Decker was “sure” he wanted to go through with the murders. Decker replied affirmatively. All of these conversations were recorded and videotaped. Consequently, Decker was charged with attempted willful, deliberate, and premeditated murder. The trial court dismissed the attempted murder charges. The appellate court issued a writ of mandate directing the trial court to reinstate the dismissed counts. Decker sought review.
Did the State provide evidence that there was a direct but ineffectual act toward accomplishing the intended killings, as required under Pen. Code, § 21a, to prove an attempt?
The Court held that there was a direct but ineffectual act toward accomplishing the intended killings, as required under Pen. Code, § 21a, to prove an attempt. The Court averred that when Decker handed the assassin the downpayment, he was putting his plan into action. According to the Court, the facts would have led a reasonable person to believe a crime was about to be consummated absent an intervening force and thus that the attempt was underway. Although defendant did not himself point a gun at his sister, he did aim at her an armed professional who had agreed to commit the murder.
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