People v. Staples

The Facts

Defendant charged with attempted burglary.  Defendant, a mathematician, rented an office under a false name directly over a bank.  Defendant drilled two holes into his floor above the bank vault on a Saturday, when he knew the office and bank were empty.  He stopped drilling before the holes went in the floor.  Defendant installed a lock on the closet door where he stored his drilling tools.  The landlord found the key to the vault and holes in the floor and notified police.  Defendant provided in a written statement testimony that he drilled the holes and “because of tiredness, fear, and the implications of what I was doing, I stopped and went to sleep… At this point I think my motives began to change.”  He further stated that he did not want to go through with the crime, but then stated “I had still not given up my plan however.  I felt I had made a certain investment of time, money, effort and a certain psychological commitment to the concept.”  He then stated that although he came back several times to the office to continue drilling, his thought of going through with the crime seemed more and more absurd.

Procedural History

Defendant guilty at trial by judge, based on testimony transcript.  Defendant appealed on the grounds that he cannot be convicted of attempted burglary because his actions were preparatory.


To convict, prosecution must prove “that defendant committed an attempt to burglarize, it was required to establish that he had the specific intent to commit a burglary of the bank and that his acts toward that goal went beyond mere preparation.”

The Issue

Whether drilling into a bank vault, stopping short of entering the vault and drilling directly into the vault, constitutes mere preparation rather than an attempt at robbery.

The Holding

No, conviction upheld.  “His drilling activity clearly was an unequivocal and direct step toward the completion of the burglary.  It was a fragment of the substantive crime contemplated, i.e. , the beginning of the ‘breaking’ element.”  Moreover, in his statement, defendant referred to the drilling as the commencement of his plan.  “The drilling by the defendant was obviously one of a series of acts which logic and ordinary experience indicate would result in the proscribed act of burglary.”

It does not matter whether a defendant halts the advancement of the crime voluntarily or involuntarily.  Usually defendants are charged with attempt where their crime is intercepted by police or they’re caught in the act.  Here defendant was aware that the landlord had taken his property and discovered his acts, which prompted his abandonment of the crime.  “Once that attempt is found there can be no exculpatory abandonment.”


Many courts hold that abandonment and renunciation of the crime is not a defense to attempted criminal activity.

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