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Commonwealth v. Skipper

    Brief Fact Summary. Defendant was charged with attempted prison breach for hiding hacksaw blades in his cell that were discovered by prison officials.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. As long as the acts are preparation only and can be abandoned before any transgression of the law and of others’ rights, they do not amount to attempts.

    Facts. Defendant was a prisoner at a local prison in Pennsylvania. Defendant was charged as the principal perpetrator in an attempted prison breach. A witness for the Prosecution testified that Defendant had approached him to obtain hacksaw blades in exchange for $150.00. The witness testified that he did obtain the blades and sent them to Defendant concealed in bread. Prison officials later conducted a shakedown of the prison after intercepting a note between the witness and another prisoner regarding the blades. The prison officials found blades concealed in Defendant’s cell. The Jury found Defendant guilty and Defendant appealed pro se.

    Issue. Whether Defendant’s actions constituted an attempt.

    Held. Reversed.
    Pennsylvania defines an attempt as being an overt act done in pursuance of intent to do a specific thing, tending to the end but falling short of complete accomplishment of it.

    This definition of attempt has a further qualification that the overt act must be sufficiently proximate to the intended crime to form one of the natural series of acts, which the intent requires for its full execution.

    So long as the acts are confined to preparation only and can be abandoned before any transgression of the law or of others’ rights, they are within the sphere of intent and do not amount to attempts.


    Discussion. The Court is using an analysis that asks the question whether Defendant still had sufficient time to withdraw before the commission of the crime. The Court ruled that under the Pennsylvania definition of attempt, there was no way a jury could find Defendant guilty. The Court reached the conclusion by noting that the discovery of the blades did no more than interrupt Defendant’s plan in the preparation stage.


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