United States v. Jackson
560 F.2d 112 (1977)

  • Jackson, Allen, Scott and Hodges planned to rob a bank. They drove up to the bank with guns and masks in the car, but decided it was too crowded and that they would try again in a few days.
  • In the meantime, Hodges was arrested on unrelated charges, and offered to give evidence against the other three.
  • The police staked out the bank, and a few days later, the conspirators drove up to the bank, and sat around not doing anything. They noticed the police stake out. The police jumped out and arrested them.
    • Again, the groups had guns and masks in the car.
  • The Trial Court found the group guilty of conspiracy and attempted robbery. They appealed the attempted robbery conviction.
    • They were actually found guilty of attempted robbery for the first try, and again for the second try.
    • The Trial Court found that in order to be found guilty of attempt, the defendant must:
      • Be acting with the kind of culpability otherwise required for commission of the crime.
      • Be engaged in conduct which constitutes a substantial step towards commission of the crime.
  • The Appellate Court upheld the convictions.
    • The Appellate Court looked to the Model Penal Code §5.01 and found that both “reconnoitering the place contemplated for the crime,” and “possession of paraphernalia to be employed in the commission of the crime,” were sufficient as a matter of law to constitute a substantial step in the commission of the crime.
    • The group unsuccessfully argued that they had not taken that final step of actually robbing the bank. Therefore they had abandoned their intent to commit the crime.
      • Under the common-law, a person wasn’t guilty of attempt unless the defendant’s acts were in dangerous proximity to the actual crime. However, the Court found that the Model Penal Code’s substantial step doctrine had overturned the common-law requirement.
        • Dangerous proximity is based on the idea of locus penitentiae (aka ‘an opportunity to repent’). Courts are reluctant to move the threshold of criminality to an earlier point because there is a desire to preserve the defendant’s opportunity to change their mind and not commit the crime.