People v. Najera

The Facts

Defendant charged with first degree murder of victim.  Victim allegedly called defendant a “faggot” or a “jota” in Spanish.  Defendant told victim that he didn’t want to be called that. Victim called him that again and defendant pushed victim and they began to fight.  Victim then said he wanted defendant’s sister, then later repeated the “jota” insult.  There was a 10 minute period where the two went inside.  Defendant then emerged from the house and slashed victim with a knife in the stomach.

Procedural History

Jury convicts of second degree murder.  Defendant argues the charges should be dropped to voluntary manslaughter.  On appeal defendant argues that the prosecutor should not have told the jury that the determination of “heat of passion should be based on the defendant’s conduct rather than the circumstances  in which the defendant was placed.  At closing, the prosecutor told the jury that they should ask themselves what a reasonable person would do in defendant’s circumstances.

The Issue

Whether the reasonable person standard (objective standard) should be used to determine murder.

The Holding

No, but conviction is sustained.  “An unlawful homicide is upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion if the killer’s reason was obscured by a provocation sufficient to cause an ordinary person of average disposition to act rashly and without deliberation.”  The appropriate question is whether the provocation would cause a reasonable person to act rashly.  The focus should be on the provocation and the circumstances.  “How the killer responded to the provocation and the reasonableness of the response is not relevant to sudden quarrel or heat of passion.”  The test for this provocation is objective, not subjective.  Calling the victim the derogatory term as he did “would not drive an ordinary person to act rashly or without due deliberation and reflection.”

Note:  Some courts holds that words alone are never enough to constitute adequate provocation to reduce to voluntary manslaughter.

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