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State v. Reeves

Citation. 916 S.W.2d 909, 1996 Tenn. 119.
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Brief Fact Summary.

Two middle school girls plotted to kill their teacher with poison, but their plan was thwarted when another student, with whom one of the girls shared the plan, told another teacher about it.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Attempt requires that the defendant take a substantial step toward the commission of the crime.


Two twelve-year-old girls, Tracie Reeves (Reeves) and Molly Coffman (Coffman) agreed to kill their homeroom teacher, Janice Geiger (Geiger), with rat poison. The girls further agreed that they would steal Geiger’s car and drive to the Smoky Mountains. They tried to enlist the help of Dean Foutch, a high school student, to drive the car, but he refused after hearing the plot. On the date the girls planned to murder Geiger, Coffman carried a packet of rat poison to school in her purse. During the bus ride to school, Coffman informed Christy Hernandez (Hernandez), another student, of the plan and showed her the rat poison. Hernandez then told her homeroom teacher, Sherry Cockrill (Cockrill), of the plot, and Cockrill in turn told the principal, Claudia Argo (Argo). Geiger noticed the two girls leaning over her desk when she entered the room. The girls noticed Geiger, giggled, and ran back to their seats, leaving a purse next to Geiger’s coffee cup. Thereafter, Argo requested that
Coffman come to the principal’s office and the rat poison was found in her purse.


Does the girls’ conduct constitute attempted second-degree murder?


Yes. Under Tennessee law, among other things, attempt requires that the defendant act with intent to commit an offense and the conduct “constitutes a substantial step toward the commission of the offense.” The conduct does not constitute a substantial step “unless the person’s entire course of action is corroborative of the intent to commit the offense.” The Tennessee Supreme Court appears to abandon the distinction between “mere preparation” and the “act itself.” Here, even though the girls did not actually place the poison in the teacher’s cup, it is clear that they possessed the materials to commit the crime at the scene of the crime and the materials could serve no lawful purpose. Under these circumstances, the jury is entitled, but not required, to find the girls guilty of attempt.


The evidence is insufficient as a matter of law to prove attempted second-degree murder.


The majority properly abandoned the distinction between “mere preparation” and the “act itself” found in the case of Dupuy v. State.


Under Tennessee law, the relevant inquiry is whether the defendant has taken a substantial step toward the commission of the crime, which is seemingly a lesser burden than proving that the act committed rose to a level beyond mere preparation.

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