People v. Geiger

The Facts

Defendant confronted his wife and her friend upon entering a bar.  The wife’s friend was told by defendant to wait for his wife in the bar.  Instead, she waited in the car and watched defendant try to force his wife into his car.  Testimony suggests that defendant drove his wife to a nearby field and hit her two or three times and “pushed her to the ground in such a manner that she bumped her head against the car.”  When his wife was knocked unconscious defendant picked her up and put her in his car.  Defendant then drove his wife to their trailer where he tried to clean her off.  He then left his wife in the trailer and drove to a friend’s house.  He convinced his friend to help him move his wife’s car from the bar to her parents’ home.  Defendant conceded to his friend that “he might be facing a murder rap.”  Defendant returned home, blanketed his wife, and drove for 186 miles, finally stopping at a hospital where his wife was pronounced dead.  The cause of death was ruled that “sometime after the beating (the wife) had attempted to vomit and had choked to death on her own vomitus.”

Procedural History

At trial defendant was charged with first degree murder, but the jury was instructed only to consider second degree murder and manslaughter.  Defendant argues that there is no showing of malice and therefore should be no instruction as to second degree murder.


Malice is “an intent to cause the very harm that results or some harm of the same general nature, or an act done in wanton or willful disregard of the plain and strong likelihood that some such harm will result.”  “It is necessary (for conviction) that the intent with which he acted … be equivalent in legal character to a criminal purpose aimed against life.”

The Issue

“Was there evidence from which a jury could infer defendant’s alleged intent to produce great bodily injury with the attendant likelihood that death would result therefrom?”

Whether the wife’s death by asphyxiation absolves defendant of malicious intent.

The Holding/Reasoning

Yes.  A jury could infer that defendant had an intent equivalent to a criminal purpose aimed against life based on her injuries.  The defendant’s injuries alone may not be enough to establish intent, but when it is presented against the backdrop that he did not attend to the victim’s medical needs where they were clearly needed, the jury can reasonably infer the required intent.

Yes. The wife’s asphyxiation was the “natural and probable consequence of the beating … from which a jury could find a causal connection between the assault … and the act of vomiting.”  A jury could find based on the evidence that injuries were “reasonably calculated to cause death” and the injuries “contributed mediately or immediately to the death.”

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