The Federal Bank Robbery Act: Why the Current Split Involving the Use of Force Requirement for Attempted Bank Robbery is Really an Exception

Paul Piaskoski | January 1, 2019

The Federal Bank Robbery Act had been on the books for seventy years by the time the federal appellate courts began to openly quarrel about the necessary elements of attempted bank robbery under the first paragraph of the Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a). Specifically, the circuits disagree as to whether proof of actual force is required to sustain a conviction of attempted bank robbery, or if attempted force is sufficient for a conviction. Legal scholars have repeatedly framed this split in authority as a consequence of competing methods of statutory interpretation. In this Comment, however, I argue that it is neither a true split, nor the result of competing methods of interpretation. In fact, a close examination of the case law reveals that in those instances where the majority circuits have held that attempted force is sufficient for a conviction, the courts are skipping the statutory analysis altogether. Further scrutiny of the facts in each of the majority cases shows that this non-canonical approach to statutory interpretation—or, more accurately, the absence of an approach—only occurs when certain distinguishing facts are present: (1) foreknowledge of the attempt by law enforcement; and (2) the corresponding opportunity for law enforcement to intervene before somebody gets hurt. As such, I contend the so-called split is more accurately categorized as an exception to the statutorily prescribed actual force requirement, firmly rooted in one of the primary policy considerations behind the passage and current enforcement of the Act: protecting innocent bystanders from harm.