295 Mass. 1 (1936), Minasian v. Aetna Life Ins. Co.

Citation:295 Mass. 1, 3 N.E.2d 17
Opinion Judge:LUMMUS, Justice.
Party Name:MINASIAN v. AETNA LIFE INS. CO.
Attorney:H. Katz, of Boston, for plaintiff. A. S. Allen, of Boston, for defendant.
Case Date:June 30, 1936
Court:Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
 
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Page 1

295 Mass. 1 (1936)

3 N.E.2d 17

MINASIAN

v.

AETNA LIFE INS. CO.

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk.

June 30, 1936

Exceptions from Superior Court, Suffolk County; Beaudreau, Judge.

Action of contract by Garbed Der Minasian against the AEtna Life Insurance Company. A verdict was directed for defendant, and plaintiff brings exceptions.

Exceptions sustained.

H. Katz, of Boston, for plaintiff.

A. S. Allen, of Boston, for defendant.

Page 2

LUMMUS, Justice.

It is settled law that a mentally responsible person who commits murder loses all right to the proceeds of a life insurance policy on the life of the person murdered. Slocum v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 245 Mass. 565, 139 N.E. 816, 27 A.L.R. 1517. For collections of cases, see Smith v. Todd, 155 S.C. 323, 152 S.E. 506,70 A.L.R. 1539; State v. Phoenix Mut. Life Ins. Co., 114 W.Va. 109, 170 S.E. 909,91 A.L.R. 1486; 49 Harv.Law Rev. 715. The present case requires us to consider whether that doctrine extends to cases of unlawful homicide falling short of murder.

We have before us an action of contract by the beneficiary of a policy of insurance upon the life of his wife. She died on August 3, 1930, from bullet wounds inflicted by a revolver in the hand of the plaintiff. He was indicted for murder. Ultimately he entered a plea of guilty to so much of the indictment as charged manslaughter, and was sentenced to the state prison for not less than ten nor more than twenty years.

At the trial of the present action, the plaintiff testified in substance that the revolver was discharged, without intention on his part, during a struggle with his wife for its possession. He also offered expert evidence to prove that at the time of the shooting he was in such a mental condition that he could not distinguish right from wrong. See Commonwealth v. Clark (Mass.) 198 N.E. 641. The judge excluded this expert evidence, subject to the plaintiff's exception. The plaintiff offered his own testimony to prove that his plea of guilty to manslaughter was due to the advice of counsel and to a desire to dispose of the criminal case speedily, and not to a belief in his own guilt. The judge excluded this evidence also, subject to the plaintiff's exception. The judge directed a verdict for the defendant, subject to the plaintiff's exception.

At the threshold lies the question of the effect upon this case of the criminal proceedings. Taking the plea of guilty as an admission, and disregarding for the moment the judgment which followed it, the plea, for the purposes of the present case, is only evidence of guilt. It is not conclusive, and the present plaintiff may show his reasons for entering the plea, whereby it may appear consistent with actual innocence. Mead v. Boston, 3 Cush. 404, 407; Commonwealth v. Haywood, 247 Mass. 16, 141 N.E. 571; [3 N.E.2d 18]

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Commonwealth v. Marsino, 252 Mass. 224, 232, 147 N.E. 859; Karasek v. Bockus (Mass.) 199 N.E. 726; Swan v. Philleo, 194 Iowa, 790, 190 N.W. 406; Russ v. Good, 92 Vt. 202, 205, 102 A. 481; Gillespie v. Modern Woodmen of America, 101 W.Va. 602, 133 S.E. 333; Yeska v. Swendrzynski, 133 Wis. 475, 113 N.W. 959; Note, 31 A.L.R. 278. For this reason, a verdict could not properly be directed because of the plea, without giving...

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