The Volokh Conspiracy

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Funny Criminal Law Halloween Present

For those of us who remember State v. Reeves, the Tennessee attempted-poisoning case discussed in the very popular Dressler Criminal Law casebook.


I had taught that case when I taught criminal law for several years, so I was much amused by this photo of a gift that Prof. David Ball at Santa Clara got from his criminal law students.

Recall the facts of Reeves, if they aren't seared into your memory: Two 12-year-old junior high school girls "decided to kill their homeroom teacher" by putting rat poison in the teacher's coffee; naturally, they told various classmates, who rightly told the authorities.

When Geiger [the teacher] entered her classroom that morning she observed Reeves and Coffman leaning over her desk; and when the girls noticed her, they giggled and ran back to their seats. At that time Geiger saw a purse lying next to her coffee cup on top of the desk. Shortly thereafter Argo [the principal] called Coffman to the principal's office. Rat poison was found in Coffman's purse and it was turned over to a Sheriff's Department investigator. Both Reeves and Coffman gave written statements to the investigator concerning their plan to poison Geiger and steal her car.

The legal question was whether this qualified as an attempt, given that the girls didn't go as far as to put the rat poison in the coffee; the court said yes, because under Tennessee law a "substantial step" coupled with the intent to commit a crime is enough to make a person guilty of the crime. (In other states, closer proximity to the actual completed crime is required.)

The authors of the note were students Alana Wilson, Sarina Jwo, Jess Miers, Phil Fox, Alli Montonye, Kyle Lee, Eber Terceros-Barrera, Angel Martinez, and Michelle Zhou. Nice.