Carlock v. People

Decision Date10 November 2010
Docket NumberD.C. Criminal App. No. 2006/011.
Citation54 V.I. 754
PartiesJames CARLOCK, Appellant v. People of the VIRGIN ISLANDS, Appellee.
CourtU.S. District Court — Virgin Islands


Eric Chancellor, Esq., St. Croix, VI, Attorney for Appellant.

Maureen Phelan, Esq., AAG, St. Thomas, VI, Attorney for Appellee.


GOMEZ, Chief Judge, District Court of the Virgin Islands; FINCH, Judge of the District Court of the Virgin Islands; and THOMAS Judge of the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands, sitting by designation.

Appellant James Carlock (Appellant or “Carlock”) was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and third degree assault in the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands. On appeal, he challenges his conviction alleging insufficiency of the evidence and improper jury instructions. For the reasons cited herein, we affirm.


This case arises out of the death of Alan Reid (“Reid”) on the evening of September 30, 2005. On that night, Carlock and Reid, who were both employed by a local oil refinery, went to Bongo's bar in Christiansted, St. Croix. During the course of the evening, while the men were drinking and socializing, Reid pinched Carlock's nipple. Later that night, Reid slapped Carlock on the buttocks.

Thereafter, William Decatur (“Decatur”), who was also at the bar, witnessed an argument between Carlock and Reid shortly after midnight. Accounts of the incident differ. According to Decatur, Carlock hit Reid twice in the face. 1 Reid fell to the ground and struck his head on the pavement outside of the bar. While Reid lay immobile in the street, Carlock mounted Reid and struck him in the face and head ten to eleven times. Decatur claims that he and three other bystanders were eventually able to pull Carlock off of Reid, but not before Carlock kicked Reid in the shoulder and head. According to Decatur, Reid lay prone in the street, choking on his own blood.

Carlock claimed that Reid was the initial aggressor. He testified that Reid struck him in the head with a beer bottle. Carlock further averred that as he turned to confront Reid, Carlock only struck him two to three times before the two men fell to the ground on the pavement near the bar. Both Carlock and Decatur agree that Reid did not get up.

The first officer arrived on the scene at 1:10 a.m., approximately one hour after the fight. The ambulance arrived approximately half an hour later and treated Reid. While being transported to the hospital, Reid spoke to the ambulance driver and appeared alert. His vital signs were stable. However, en route to the hospital, he became agitated and had difficulty breathing. Reid died at the hospital at 4:24 a.m.

Carlock was charged in an amended information. Count I alleged that he committed voluntary manslaughter, in violation of V.I. Code Ann. tit. 14, § 924(1). Count II alleged that he committed third degree assault, in violation of V.I. Code Ann. tit. 14, § 297(4). At trial, Decatur and Carlock testified. The treating emergency medical technician and the pathologist who examined Reid's body also testified to the extent of Reid's injuries and clinical cause of death.

Following the close of evidence, Carlock's counsel objected to the jury instruction regarding third degree assault. Carlock requested that the court instruct the jury that simple assault is a lesser included offense of third degree assault. Subsequently, the jury returned a guilty verdict on both counts of the amended information. Carlock was sentenced to a period of ten years on count I and five years on count II, as well as a $500.00 fine on count II.2 This timely appeal followed.


This court has jurisdiction to consider judgments and orders of the Superior Court in criminal cases. Revised Organic Act § 23A, 48 U.S.C. § 1613a.3 We review de novo questions of law, issues implicating rights protected under the U.S. Constitution, and the interpretation of statutes. See Gov't of V.I. v. Albert, 89 F. Supp. 2d 658, 663, 42 V.I. 184 (D.V.I.App.Div.2001). However, we afford the more deferential clear error review to factual determinations. Id.

III. DISCUSSIONA. Sufficiency of the Evidence

The standard of review for a sufficiency of the evidence claim is plenary. U.S. v. Taftsiou, 144 F.3d 287, 290 (3rd Cir.1998). Our review of a sufficiency of the evidence challenge is guided by strict principles of deference to a jury's verdict. U.S. v. Anderskow, 88 F.3d 245, 251 (3d Cir.1996). We must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government and sustain a jury's verdict if “a reasonable jury believing the Government's evidence could find beyond a reasonable doubt that the Government proved all the elements of the offenses.” United States v. Salmon, 944 F.2d 1106, 1113 (3d Cir.1991). Accordingly, [a] claim of insufficiency of the evidence places a very heavy burden on the appellant.” U.S. v. Coyle, 63 F.3d 1239, 1243 (3d Cir.1995); U.S. v. Rosario, 118 F.3d 160, 163 (3d Cir.1997).

Carlock's sufficiency of the evidence claim is twofold. He claims that the evidence was insufficient to prove his specific intent for voluntary manslaughter and also insufficient to disprove his self-defense claim.

1. Whether the evidence adduced at trial was sufficient to prove Carlock's specific intent for voluntary manslaughter

Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought. There are two categories:

(1) voluntary; upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion; or

(2) involuntary; in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony; or in the culpable omission of some legal duty; or in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection.

See14 V.I.C. § 924.

Voluntary manslaughter in the Virgin Islands requires that: (1) the defendant unlawfully killed another; (2) with malice aforethought; (3) upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion; and (4) with either an intent to kill or an intention to inflict serious or grievous bodily injury that would likely cause or result in the victim's death. Gov't of the Virgin Islands v. Knight, 764 F. Supp. 1042, 1048, 26 V.I. 280 (D.V.I.1991) (listing elements of voluntary manslaughter). A conviction for voluntary manslaughter requires a finding of specific intent, mitigated by heat of passion, caused by severe provocation. Id. at 1048.4

Carlock argues that the evidence produced at trial was insufficient to prove that he formed the specific intent to kill or inflict such bodily injury upon Reid as likely to result in his death. At trial, the jury heard eyewitness testimony from Decatur that Carlock hit Reid in the face. Decatur also testified that Carlock struck Reid with such force that Reid's body gave way to the impact and he fell to the ground, struck his head on the pavement and lay immobile in the street. The jury also heard testimony that Carlock struck Reid ten to eleven times with his fists from the “collar bone up” while Reid lay on the ground. (J.A. 59.)

Additionally, Decatur testified that when he and three other bystanders pulled Carlock from Reid, Carlock persisted in attacking Reid by kicking him in the shoulder and head. Decatur also told the jury that when the bystanders attended to Reid, he was choking on his own blood. Based on this evidence alone, a reasonable juror could have inferred that Carlock formed the requisite specific intent to commit voluntary manslaughter. See Salmon, 944 F.2d at 1113.

2. Whether the evidence adduced at trial was sufficient to disprove Carlock's self-defense claim beyond a reasonable doubta. Self-defense

To place self-defense at issue, Carlock offered evidence that he reasonably believed that he was in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm from which he could save himself only by using deadly force. See Gov't of the Virgin Islands v. Isaac, 50 F.3d 1175, 1179 (3d Cir.1995) (citing V.I. Code. Ann. tit. 14, § 43) (holding that a defendant charged with voluntary manslaughter would be entitled to an acquittal on the ground of self-defense if he reasonably believed that he was in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm from which he could save himself only by using deadly force).

Here, trial testimony revealed that Reid, unprovoked, pinched Carlock's nipple and slapped his buttocks. Carlock testified that he struck Reid to defend himself against Reid's advances. (J.A. 264-270.) Carlock also claimed that he believed that he was in imminent danger of serious bodily harm because he had heard that Reid was recently released from prison for stabbing someone. ( Id. at 276, 288.) Carlock further testified that he attacked Reid with such intensity because he reasonably feared that Reid would stab him.

Carlock properly raised self-defense. Id. at 1179 (holding that defendant “properly” raised self-defense, but passing on the applicable burden of proof for establishing self-defense in a voluntary manslaughter prosecution in the Virgin Islands); see also Gov't of the Virgin Islands v. Smith, 949 F.2d 677, 680-686, 27 V.I. 332 (3d Cir.1991) (holding the defendant sufficiently raised a self-defense justification in a murder prosecution while thoroughly evaluating self-defense burden of proof jurisprudence, but declining to address applicable burden of proof for raising self-defense in the Virgin Islands). 5 The question, therefore, is whether the prosecution proved the absence of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. (“Once self-defense is raised by a defendant, the prosecution bears the burden to prove its absence beyond a reasonable doubt.”).

b. Proving absence of self-defense

Carlock argues that the prosecution failed to disprove his self-defense claim beyond a reasonable doubt because Decatur's testimony was contradicted. 6 Carlock claims that when Decatur first talked to an investigating officer at the scene, Decatur told police that Reid was...

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