Commonwealth v. Peaslee

177 Mass. 267



Mere preparation to commit a crime is not an attempt.


The Defendant had constructed and arranged flammable materials in his building in such a way that when they were lighted, they would set fire to the building and everything inside. The Defendant offered to pay a young man to go into the building and carry out the plan, but the young man refused. One evening, he and the Defendant drove toward the building, but within a quarter of a mile the Defendant changed his mind and drove away.


Whether the Defendant’s acts come near enough to the accomplishment of the substantive offense to be punishable as an attempt?




A substantive offense that is punishable as a crime is usually an overt act coupled with the intent to commit that offense. Sometimes, a person may intend to bring about a substantive offense, but their plan is thwarted by an unforeseen interruption, such as police intervention. In that scenario, even though that person would have not actually completed the punishable act, they could still be punished for having attempted the crime by having set it in motion by doing the last act necessary for the completion of the crime. However, the mere preparation to commit a crime is not punishable as an attempt. In this case, the Defendant indeed prepared to commit the substantive offense, but then changed his mind; meaning, before he completed the last act necessary to complete the offense, he no longer had the intent to commit the crime. Because the Defendant took no further act after he changed his mind, he could not be found guilty of an attempt.

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