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Actus Reus: Abandonment

Case: People v. Staples (1970) [pp. 684-686]

Facts: Δ rents a room above a bank vault, and starts prepping it in order to rob the bank. He went so far as to
drill holes in the floor too. The landlord saw this, and goes to the police. Δ said he had abandoned his attempt to
commit burglary before he was arrested. Δ sais that as time went on, he realized how absurd becoming a bank
robber was, and decided not to do it anymore. It wasn’t clear if Δ abandoned the crime before or after landlord
found the equipment.

Holding: Court holds that there was enough substantial evidence entitling a finding that the Δ's acts had gone
beyond mere preparation. Court says that the drilling was clearly an unequivocal and direct step toward the
completion of the burglary. Although it wasn’t clear as to when Δ abandoned it, it was reasonably inferred by
the trial judge that he abandoned it after the landlord found out - this is the equivalent of interception, and the Δ
involuntarily abandoned because he knew he got caught. Although the court would look at the reason for
abandonment - whether it was voluntary or involuntary - this is not controlling. Court says the relevant factor is
the determination of whether the acts of the perpetrator have reached such a stage of advancement that they can
be classified as an attempt. Once that attempt is found, there can be no exculpatory abandonment.


Notes [pp. 686-689]

• The MPC's Renunciation Rule

o The MPC permits a limited defense of abandonment (unlike Staples). MPC § 5.01(4) requires:
• "a complete and voluntary renunciation of his criminal purpose…. Renunciation is not
voluntary if it is motivated in whole or in part, by circumstances, not present or apparent
at the inception of the actor's course of conduct, which increase the probability of
detection or apprehension or which make more difficult the accomplishment of the
criminal purpose. Renunciation is not complete if it is motivated by a decision to
postpone the criminal conduct until a more advantageous time or to transfer the criminal
effort to another but similar objective or victim."
o MPC allows the defense of voluntary abandonment, explaining that the individual who abandons
of his own volition early on in the course of an attempt lacks dangerousness of character, and
also that permitting the defense for this will encourage would-be criminals to desist from their
unlawful plans.
• Abandonment Doctrine Today - the defense is applied very stringently, and very few cases where Δ has
prevailed. Sometimes, courts will not even talk about abandonment, and hold that Δ never crossed the
line from preparation to attempt.
o Bucklew v. State (1968) - Δ mayor signed a car repair bill that illegally authorized the city to pay
for his personal bill. However, he never submitted the bill to a clerk for payment. Court held that
no attempted embezzlement because he abandoned the scheme before taking any overt action
and so only preparatory activity.
• Good and bad motivation - sometimes allowing a defense of voluntary abandonment might lead to
disturbing results
o Le Barron v. State (1966) - Δ, after assaulting a woman with intent to rape her, desisted from the
rape only because he observed that she was pregnant. The court rejected the abandonment claim.
o So, the voluntary/involuntary distinction may rest of faulty premises.

Class Notes

• Abandonment - didn’t complete substantive offense, because they voluntarily stopped - gave up their
criminal purpose. Does this matter?
• Landlord finds evidence and tells police. Δ says he abandoned - he changed his mind, he didn’t finish.
Prosecutor may have argued that it’s the landlord stopped it, that's why he stopped, not because he had a
change of heart.
o In this court - doesn’t make a difference.
• Sounds like they use the unequivocality test - similar to MPC
• In this jurisdiction, the court rejects any abandonment defense, once you're an attempter
(at CL, no abandonment defense). Once he crossed the line from preparation to attempt,
too late, already crossed the line.
• MPC § 5.01 (4) - renunciation defense
o Affirmative defense that he abandoned attempt to commit crime or otherwise prevented it to
o This is an incentive to stop the commission of the crime.
o Has to be a true change of heart, can't be because circumstances make it difficult