People v. Burton, 491 P.2d 793 (1971)

Case Name: People v. Burton
Citation:  491 P.2d 793 (1971)

 Facts: Burton was committing the felony of armed robbery, during which he killed someone. He was arrested and charged with murder. At Trial, the Judge instructed the jury that they could find Burton guilty of first-degree murder if they found that the death happened as a result of the robbery, even if that death was unintentional.

State’s argument: The doctrine of felony-murder applies because armed robbery is inherently dangerous to life.

Defendant’s argument: An independent felonious purpose does not exist between the murder and the armed robbery.

Holding: An independent felonious purpose does exist and the defendant can be charged with felony-murder.

Reasoning: We look at the mind (mens rea) of the defendant committing the crime. The felony-murder doctrine is purposed to deter those committing felonies from killing people by holding them strictly liable for their deaths.

People v. Phillips, 414 P.2d 553 (1966)

Case Name: People v. Phillips
Citation: 414 P.2d 553 (1966)

Facts: At the hospital, the parents of a child with cancer were told that surgery was the only effective treatment. However, the defendant who was a chiropractor convinced the parents that he could cure the child. The child died and the defendant was charged with felony murder. The defendant was charged with grand theft medical fraud and the state tacked on a murder charge through the felony-murder doctrine. Felony murder is strict liability.

Defendant’s argument: Felony-murder only applies to those felonies which are inherently dangerous to life. Inherently dangerous felonies do not include grand theft.

Holding: The defendant cannot be charged with felony-murder.

Reasoning: Neither common law nor the legislature has deemed grand theft as an inherently dangerous felony. If the defendant did not commit an inherently dangerous felony then he cannot be charged with felony-murder.

Nolan v. State, 213 Md. 298 (1957)

Case Name: Nolan v. State
Citation: 213 Md. 298 (1957)

Facts: Nolan was convicted of embezzlement but appealed because he believed he should have only been charged with theft. Nolan worked for a loan and collection company. As customers made payments, they were placed in the cash drawer and at the end of the day, Nolan would take some of the cash. Nolan’s accomplice, who prepared the report of daily cash receipts would then recompute the adding tapes to equal the remaining cash.

State’s argument/Concurring Opinion: The Maryland Code only requires that the defendant be employed by the master, the defendant took the money into his own possession for and on behalf of his employer, and then he fraudulently appropriated it to his own use; the evidence seem to establish these elements to the satisfaction of the jury.

Defendant’s argument: Nolan did not take the money until it had been placed in the cash drawer and balanced at the end of the day. He only took the goods out of the owner’s possession which constitutes larceny, not embezzlement.

Holding: Reversed and remanded.

Concurring: Justice Prescott argued that the majority made the distinction that the offense was larceny and not embezzlement because the money went into the drawers before its fraudulent conversion. This decision, he argues, seems to place the law in an unfortunate and somewhat indefensible position.

M’Naghten’s Case

Case Name: M’Naghten’s Case
Citation: 8 Eng. Rep. 718 (1843)

Facts: M’Naghten was indicted for the murder of the secretary to the prime minister when he sought to assassinate the prime minister. M’Naghten had many prominent medical experts that provided testimony that he suffered from acute insanity. The jury returned a verdict of “not guilty, on the ground of insanity.”

The discussion surrounds questions that were asked by the House of Lords to the English judiciary about when a jury would be charged with determining the defense of insanity. The House of Lords wanted to have a better policy on when the defense of insanity could be used.

Legal Answer: The House of Lords determined that “every man is to be presumed to be sane” until the “contrary be proved to their satisfaction.” The House required that to establish a defense on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong – this should not be a question of “actual knowledge of the law of the land” but the presumption that everyone must be taken conclusively to know it, without proof that he does know it.

State v. Toscano, 74 N.J. 421 (1977)

Case Name: State v. Toscano
Citation: 74 N.J. 421 (1977)

Facts: Toscano was charged with conspiracy to obtain money by false pretenses (through insurance fraud). At trial, Toscano testified that he was under duress after Leonardo, the conspiracy organizer, made threats to Toscano and his wife. The trial judge did not allow the jury to consider the Toscano’s evidence of duress.

State’s argument: Toscano was not under duress because there was not a threat of impending death or serious bodily harm that was imminent, present, and pending. Toscano could have sought police protection and help.

Defendant’s argument: The trial court should have allowed Toscano’s evidence of duress because it was because of the threats to him and his wife that he was involved in the conspiracy to begin with.

Holding: Remanded for new trial.

Reasoning: Toscano provided a factual basis that he and his wife were threatened with physical violence if he refused to assist in the fraudulent scheme. A jury may have found that the threats induced a reasonable fear.

Durham v. State, 199 Ind. 567 (1927)

Case Name: Durham v. State
Citation: 199 Ind. 567 (1927)

Facts: Durham, the defendant and a deputy game warren, tried to arrest Long for illegal fishing. Long resisted, tried to flee, and beat Durham with an oar to get away. Durham then shot Long. Durham was convicted of assault and battery.

State’s argument: To adopt a rule that a state official cannot use extreme force to capture a misdemeanant would render the state powerless and permit misdemeanants to “stay the power of the state by unlawful resistance.”

Defendant’s argument: An officer may use force that is reasonably necessary to accomplish the arrest of a misdemeanant but cannot kill or inflict great bodily harm just for the purpose of effecting the arrest.

Holding: The judgment is reversed with a new trial.

Reasoning: To not allow a state officer to use force in arresting, even a misdemeanant, will say to defendant’s, “You may measure strength with the arresting officer, and avoid being taken if you are the stronger.” In other words, the court does not want to elevate brute force to a position of command over the wheels of justice.

People v. Goetz, 68 NY 2d 96 (1986)

Case Name: People v. Goetz
Citation: 68 NY 2d 96 (1986)

Facts: Goetz was indicted on attempted murder, assault, and other charges for having shot and wounded four youths on a New York City subway train. The youths had approached Goetz and asked him for $5. Goetz had previously been mugged on the subway and believed these youths were going to mug him. The defendant then shot all four of the youths from left to right with his unlicensed pistol. The fifth bullet in the gun he used on one of the boys who “seem[ed] to be all right” so Goetz gave him “another.” None of the youths died but the boy who was shot twice was left paralyzed and with brain damage.

State’s argument: In evaluating the defendant’s self defense claim, the question is whether the defendant’s conduct was that of a reasonable man in the defendant’s situation.

Defendant’s argument: The use of the phrase “reasonably believes” in the penal code means that the analysis is from the point of view of the defendant and whether he reasonably believed he needed to act in self defense.

Holding: The state’s reading of the statute is proper.

Reasoning: The use of the word “reasonable” before belief shows that the drafters wanted to adopt an objective standard. The defendant’s own perceptions could completely exonerate him from any criminal liability.

State v. Hayes, 105 Mo. 76, 16 S.W. 514 (1891)

Case Name: State v. Hayes
Citation: 105 Mo. 76, 16 S.W. 514 (1891)

Facts: Hayes, the defendant, proposed to Hill to rob a general store. The store was owned by Hill’s relatives but Hill agreed in order to entrap Hayes. Hayes opened up the window and Hill climbed in, handed Hayes a side of bacon. Hayes was then arrested.

State’s argument: Hayes was guilty of burglary because he, with a felonious intent, assisted and aided Hill to enter the building.

Defendant’s argument: Hayes cannot be guilty of the act of Hill because Hill’s act was not criminal. Hill did not enter the store with intent to steal and therefore, Hill did not commit a crime.

Holding: Judgment was reversed and remanded for a new trial on a count of petit larceny for “taking and removing the bacon after it was handed to him.”

Reasoning: The intent of the conspirators matters. “To make defendant responsible for the acts of Hill, they must have had a common motive and common design.”

The Common Law required mutuality or the same mens rea. Under the Model Penal Code (MPC), both parties do not need the same mens rea. Therefore, Hayes could be convicted under the MPC.

Pinkerton v. United States, 328 US 640 (1946)

Case Name: Pinkerton v. United States
Citation: 328 US 640 (1946)

Facts: Defendant, Daniel Pinkerton, was convicted on substantive counts that his brother, Walter committed through conspiracy. The crimes were for violations of the Internal Revenue Code (“dealing in whiskey” according to the dissent). Walter committed many of the crimes when Daniel was in prison.

State’s argument: Daniel Pinkerton can be found guilty on the substantive counts if it was found at the time of the offenses, both defendants were parties to an unlawful conspiracy and the substantive offenses were in fact committed in furtherance of it.

Defendant’s argument: In addition to evidence that the offense was committed in furtherance of the conspiracy, the state must introduce evidence of direct participation in the commission of the substantive offense or other evidence from which participation might fairly be inferred was necessary.

Reasoning: Pinkerton joined in the unlawful scheme and there was no evidence that he had disavowed or defeated the purpose of the conspiracy.

Dissent: There was no evidence that Daniel participated in, aided or abetted Water in committing the substantive crimes. Also, if the court requires an action by the defendant to show withdrawal from the conspiracy, shouldn’t going to prison be enough?


Pinkerton doctrine: A defendant who is guilty of conspiring to commit one offense may be convicted of other offenses that his co-conspirators commit in furtherance of the conspiracy, as long as those other offenses are reasonably foreseeable consequences of the conspiratorial agreement.

State v. Guthrie, 194 W. Va 657 (1995)

Case Name: State v. Guthrie
Citation: 194 W. Va 657 (1995)

Facts: Guthrie was convicted of first-degree murder and received a life sentence. Guthrie killed his co-worker after he was teased and whipped with a towel. Guthrie removed a knife from his pocked and stabbed the victim in the neck and as he fell, the arm. Guthrie had documented psychiatric problems including: two daily panic attacks, chronic depression, and an obsession with his nose (body dysmorphic disorder). Guthrie testified that he suffered a panic attack immediately preceding the stabbing.

Defendant’s argument: The jury instructions equated the terms “willful, deliberate, and premeditated” with “an intent to kill.” What is the point of having all of these different words if they all mean the same thing?

State’s argument: Premeditation can occur instantaneously and deliberation is only required for a moment. “No time is too short for the necessary premeditation to occur.” See Commonwelath v. Carroll.

Holding: Reversed and remanded for a new trial.

Reasoning: The jury instructions do not inform the jury of the difference between first- and second-degree murder. “To allow the State to prove premeditation…by only showing that the intention came into existence for the first time at the time of such killing completely eliminate the distinction between the two degrees of murder.” An elaborate plan or scheme to take life is not required, but the notion of instantaneous premeditation and momentary deliberation is not satisfactory for proof of first-degree murder.