Defendant convicted at trial of murder in the second degree and pled not guilty by reason of insanity. Victim was a bartender who was having an affair with the defendant’s wife. After learning of this, defendant filed for divorce and later agreed to meet the bartender, which was arranged by his wife. Prior to the arrangement, defendant had successfully submitted a restraining order against the bartender from seeing his children. Before the arranged meeting, defendant took his son and weapon to his wife’s mother’s home to retrieve items for his son. When he arrived, he saw the bartender in the living room, where the bartender had been living at the time. After seeing the bartender, defendant put his child in the car, returned to the house, and shot the bartender multiple times. At trial, defendant claims he blacked out and has very little memory of the event. Prior to the incident, defendant had a reputation of calmness and non-violence in demeanor.
Whether “blacking out” during a crime of murder constitutes a reduction in mens rea such that the charged can be guilty of involuntary manslaughter instead of second degree murder.
“Voluntary manslaughter is a willful act, characterized by the presence of an intent to kill engendered by sufficient provocation and by the absence of premeditation, deliberation and (by presumption of law) malice aforethought.”
Yes, trial court ruling modified to involuntary manslaughter. California code provides “voluntary manslaughter as the unlawful killing of a human being, without malice ‘upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.’” This is sufficient to reduce the charge to manslaughter. Defendant had fully anticipated not seeing the bartender until their meeting and was in a state of shock to discover him at his mother in law’s home. This case does not demonstrate malice or premeditation, express or implied. Testimony also demonstrates that the defendant was “white and shaking” and that he was mentally and physically exhausted when he first discovered the bartender in his mother in law’s home. “It appears to us, as a matter of law, that under the circumstances here presented there was adequate provocation to provoke in the reasonable man such a heat of passion as would render an ordinary man of average disposition likely to act rashly or without due deliberation and reflection.”
Note the unusual nature of this ruling, in that they completely overrule a jury verdict. Also, note that the court is considering subjective standards, i.e. that he was exhausted, yet eventually articulate an objective standard of provocation of a reasonable man.