People v. Berry (1976)

US Criminal Law

People v Berry
Image: ‘It’s Hard to Explain Murder’ by Dean Cornwell

First degree murder and involuntary manslaughter fall within the same category of unlawful killing, however when the defendant is subject to the misdirection of a jury, the sentence can be one in excess of the prescribed term. In this matter, a man convicted of strangling his wife challenged the trial court decision on grounds of both emotional and mental vulnerability.

In summer of 1974, the appellant married a woman more than half his age, before she travelled back to her home country of Israel. Upon her return, she declared her love for another man with whom she had enjoyed sexual intercourse with on a number of occasions. What then followed was a series of emotional inducements and sexual engagements with the appellant that preceded almost immediate emotional and physical rejections and spurning of his advances.

This pattern of behaviour lasted for a period of around ten days, after which the appellant choked his wife to the point of unconsciousness. Having reported him to the police authorities, the appellant was arrested and charged with assault likely to produce great bodily injury, as per s.245(a)(4) of the California Penal Code, which reads:

“Any person who commits an assault upon the person of another by any means of force likely to produce great bodily injury shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years, or in a county jail for not exceeding one year, or by a fine…or by both the fine and imprisonment.”

Within twenty-four hours of her returning home, the two parties began arguing, whereupon the appellant again strangled his wife, instead using a telephone cord until she was dead. Having confessed, the appellant was charged with first degree murder under ss. 187 and 189 of the California Penal Code which read:

“187(a) Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought”

189. All murder which is perpetrated by means of…lying in wait, torture, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing…with the intent to inflict death, is murder of the first degree.”

Upon which the appellant appealed on grounds that the jury were misdirected when failing to consider the defence submitted by his instructed psychiatrist of voluntary manslaughter under s.192 of the Penal Code, which states:

Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice. It is of three kinds: (a) Voluntary – upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion (b) Involuntary and (c) Vehicular…”

And that due to his mental instability, he was entitled to mitigation under a defence of diminished responsibility as per People v. Mosher, in which malice was eliminated by way of mental defect.

Upon presentation, the California Supreme Court examined s.192 of the California Penal Code and drew reference to People v. Logan, in which the court held that:

“[I]t is left to the jurors to say whether or not the facts and circumstances in evidence are sufficient to lead them to believe that the defendant did, or to create a reasonable doubt in their minds as to whether or not he did, commit his offense under a heat of passion…[F]or the fundamental of the inquiry is whether or not the defendant’s reason was, at the time of his act, so disturbed or obscured by some passion—not necessarily fear and never, of course, the passion for revenge—to such an extent as would render ordinary men of average disposition liable to act rashly or without due deliberation and reflection, and from this passion rather than from judgment.”

While noting that in People v. Valentine, it had been agreed that verbal provocation would be sufficient to constitute arousal of heat or passion.

With regard to the claim of diminished responsibility, it was also agreed that while diminished capacity typically required evidence of mental illness, mental defect or intoxication, it had been recently held in People v. Long, that mental illness or defect without intoxication was equally sufficient as a defence.

Unfortunately for the appellant, there had at no time, been any mention of mental deficiency within his defence, and so while it was held that the jury were incorrectly directed to determine guilt without consideration of s.192, there could be no mitigation for diminished responsibility, therefore only the first element of the appeal was reversed.

 

Aldinger v. Howard (1976)

US Civil Procedure

Aldinger v Howard
Image: ‘Spokane Skyline’ by Pablo Romero

Litigation for loss of earnings through discriminatory dismissal is a linear process within state jurisdiction, however when the employer is a federal representative, the rules according to civil suits are subject to close examination.

Having enjoyed work as a cleric within the Spokane County Treasury, the claimant was dismissed under s.36.16.070 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), which grants that:

“The officer appointing a deputy or other employee shall be responsible for the acts of his or her appointees upon his or her official bond and may revoke each appointment at pleasure.”

Under a claim in the district court, the now appellant argued that dismissal merely for living with her boyfriend was a violation of the First, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and that under the circumstances, the Treasury was equally liable under 42 USC § 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, which provides that:

“Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress…”

It was for these reasons that an injunction was requested against the appointing officer and his wife, while the county was deemed subject to vicarious liability through the misconduct of the two named employees, both of which claims were brought under the powers of 28 USC § 1343(3), which explains that the district courts are required:

“(3) To redress the deprivation, under color of any State law, statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage, of any right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution of the United States or by any Act of Congress providing for equal rights of citizens or of all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States…”

When first heard, the court held that Spokane County could not be held liable as a ‘person’ and therefore no suit could be brought against them, after which the appellant sought relief through the court of appeals, who with reference to 28 USC § 1343(3), upheld the previous decision, however when taken to the U.S. Supreme Court, greater detail was paid to the doctrine of both ‘pendent’ and ‘ancillary’ jurisdiction, upon which the ruling in United Mine Workers v. Gibbs determined how the former provided that:

“[S]tate and federal claims must derive from a common nucleus of operative fact. But if, considered without regard to their federal or state character, a plaintiff’s claims are such that he would ordinarily be expected to try them all in one judicial proceeding, then, assuming substantiality of the federal issues, there is Power in federal courts to hear the whole.”

While the latter was outlined in Fulton Bank v. Hozier, when it was held how:

“The general rule is that when a federal court has properly acquired jurisdiction over a cause, it may entertain, by intervention, dependent or ancillary controversies; but no controversy can be regarded as dependent or ancillary unless it has direct relation to property or assets actually or constructively drawn into the court’s possession or control by the principal suit.”

However, on this occasion both approaches ran counter to the principle held in the appeals court that:

“[F]ederal courts should be wary of extending court-created doctrines of jurisdiction to reach parties who are expressly excluded by Congress from liability, and hence federal jurisdiction…”

This translated that while art. III of the Federal Constitution allowed the Supreme Court to vest adjudicatory powers to the lower courts, the conflicting principles of both 42 USC § 1983 and that of the appeals court prevented the Court from allowing a mergence of the two claims, despite their obvious connectivity, and which resulted in dismissal of the appeal while holding that:

“[A]s against a plaintiff’s claim of additional power over a “pendent party,” the reach of the statute conferring jurisdiction should be construed in light of the scope of the cause of action as to which federal judicial power has been extended by Congress.”