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Commonwealth v. Peaslee

Citation. 177 Mass. 267, 59 N.E. 55, 1901 Mass. 627.
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Defendant, Peaslee (Defendant), arranged combustibles in a building in such a way that the building would have been set ablaze if the combustibles had been lighted. The Defendant tried to pay a young man to light the combustibles and he refused. The closest the Defendant came to lighting the combustibles was driving within a quarter of a mile from the building.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Attempt is either an act that would bring about the substantive crime if not for the unforeseen interruption or an act that would bring about the substantive crime if not for a mistake of judgment.


The Defendant arranged combustibles in a building such that lighting the combustibles would set the building on fire. The plan was to place a candle on a piece of wood in a pan of turpentine and light it. The Defendant attempted to pay a young man to carry out the lighting of the combustibles. When the young man refused, the Defendant and the young man drove towards the building, but never got closer than within a quarter of a mile away. The Defendant then changed his mind and drove away.


Did the Defendant’s acts constitute the crime of attempt?


No. The collection of explosives and preparation of a plan are insufficient to be an attempt. The Defendant did not show a present intent to set the fire and he did not, at any time, come close to setting the building on fire.


Attempt requires a present intent to commit the crime. While the Defendant here was only one step away from completing the crime, i.e. lighting the combustibles, it was not attempt because he could not go through with lighting the fire.

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