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State v. Peterson

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Defendant appeals a conviction of arson for instructing someone to set fire to her dwelling house.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A person who has requested another to commit a crime may withdraw before the completed act, and avoid criminal responsibility, by communicating the withdrawal to the person instructed to commit the crime.

    Facts.

    While confined in a hospital, Peterson (Defendant) instructed August Anderson to set fire to her dwelling house. Prior to Anderson completing the task, however, Defendant told Victor Carlson to instruct Anderson that she had changed her mind and not to set the fire. Carlson relayed Defendant’s instructions to Anderson, who instead, set fire to the house. Defendant was charged with, and convicted of, arson. Defendant appealed and argued that she had abandoned any intent to have Anderson set fire to her house before he committed the act.

    Issue.

    Whether a person who has requested another to commit a crime may withdraw before the completed act, and avoid criminal responsibility, by communicating the withdrawal to the person instructed to commit the crime.

    Held.

    Yes. Defendant’s conviction is reversed. A person who has requested another to commit a crime may withdraw before the completed act, and avoid criminal responsibility, by communicating the withdrawal to the person instructed to commit the crime.

    Discussion.

    On appeal, Defendant argues that she withdrew her intent to have Anderson set fire to her house and therefore cannot be found guilty of arson. It is important to note that Defendant was not charged with conspiracy to commit arson, a separate offense from the completed crime and a misdemeanor. Rather, she was charged with arson which is a felony. A person who has counseled, requested, or procured another to commit a crime may withdraw before the completed act and avoid criminal responsibility by communicating the withdrawal to the person instructed to commit the crime. Here, Defendant took sufficient steps to stop the crime from occurring. After her request not to set the fire was communicated to Anderson, Defendant had withdrawn from the crime and any action taken by Anderson after that was his sole responsibility.


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