Hollis v. State

Decision Date26 May 1981
Docket Number7 Div. 761
Citation399 So.2d 935
PartiesHoyt HOLLIS v. STATE.
CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals

William D. Hudson of Wilson & Hudson, Gadsden, for appellant.

Charles A. Graddick, Atty. Gen. and Jean Williams Brown, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellee.

DeCARLO, Judge.

Appellant was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment for the stabbing of George Kimbril, his stepson-in-law. Betty Lou Kimbril, appellant's stepdaughter, testified that on February 5, 1980, she and her husband, George, were living with appellant. According to Mrs. Kimbril, that afternoon, she was sitting on the couch and her husband was reclining on the couch with his head in her lap, when appellant entered the house and, without provocation, stabbed George Kimbril.

Appellant testified that he had been drinking, that he and Kimbril had an argument, and that Kimbril cut appellant on the hand with a knife. Appellant then left and went to borrow a butcher knife from a neighbor. When appellant returned to the house, Kimbril stood up and reached in his pocket and appellant stabbed him. Appellant then went next door and told another neighbor, "Call the sheriff, I think I have killed George. I hope to God I haven't."

The deputy coroner viewed the stab wound in Kimbril's chest between 7:00 and 7:30 P.M. and pronounced Kimbril dead at the scene. He did not examine the body for other wounds or give his opinion as to the cause of death.

Appellant was arrested about 6:30 or 7:00 P.M. at his neighbor's home and taken to police headquarters. Attalla Police Officer Harold Enich testified that appellant was "obviously intoxicated" at 7:30 P.M. and he did not question appellant at that time. He did, however, advise appellant of his rights and appellant volunteered an oral statement, which Enich did not reduce to writing.

Captain Koy Rigsby also talked to appellant that evening, observed that he was "drunk," and advised him of his rights. Appellant signed a waiver of rights form and gave Capt. Rigsby a statement which was reduced to writing. The following day, after appellant had spent the night in jail, Capt. Rigsby again advised appellant of his rights. Appellant signed another statement, which was later put in written form. Rigsby asked appellant whether he remembered anything from the day before and appellant replied, "Yes, sir, I remember everything. I was not drunk, I remember."

At trial, appellant objected to testimony regarding the contents of any of the three statements. The trial court ruled that both the oral statement and the first written statement given February 5 were inadmissible because appellant was intoxicated. The second written statement, taken on February 6, was admitted into evidence.

I

Appellant claims that the State did not adequately prove the cause of the victim's death; therefore, he contends, the trial court erred in denying his motion to exclude at the close of the State's case.

Appellant is correct that there was no expert testimony regarding the cause of death. Expert testimony, however, is not always necessary to establish the cause of death. Dismukes v. State, Ala.Cr.App., 346 So.2d 1170, reversed on rehearing, 346 So.2d 1175, cert. den. 346 So.2d 1177 (1977). The question whether, under all the circumstances, death was the result of the defendant's assault on the deceased, is one of fact for the jury. Dismukes, supra; Gurley v. State, 36 Ala.App. 606, 61 So.2d 137 (1952); Hall v. State, 34 Ala.App. 246, 38 So.2d 612 (1949). If there is any proof, direct or circumstantial, to establish the corpus delicti, the issue is one of fact for the jury and not one of law for the court. McCall v. State, 262 Ala. 414, 79 So.2d 51 (1955); McDonald v. State, 56 Ala.App. 147, 320 So.2d 80 (1975); Cook v. State, 43 Ala.App. 304, 189 So.2d 595 (1966).

Our review of the record convinces us that there was sufficient circumstantial evidence regarding the cause of George Kimbril's death. Under these facts, expert testimony was not needed. It was not "beyond the knowledge of the average layman" to understand that stabbing a person with a butcher knife could cause death. The victim's wife witnessed the stabbing. The appellant admitted to his neighbor that he thought he had "killed George," and he later pleaded self-defense. There was no indication that Kimbril died from anything other than the stab wound inflicted by appellant.

It is our judgment, therefore, that the facts of the instant case fall squarely within the holding of Dismukes v. State, supra at 1174, in which the court stated:

"In this case the cause of death was obvious. The causal relationship between the act of the accused inflicting the wound and the death of the deceased was not obscure or beyond the knowledge of the average layman. A dangerous weapon was used and there was no evidence presented or even suggested that the accused (sic) died from anything but the bullet wounds inflicted by the appellant. The appellant entered a plea of self defense; she told the volunteer emergency technician that she had killed the deceased. On the witness stand, the appellant admitted shooting the deceased. This case should not be reversed on evidence such as this nor should this court substitute its findings for those of the jury which convicted the appellant." (Citations omitted.)

II

Appellant next contends that the admission of his second written statement, given to the police the day after the stabbing, was error. Counsel asserts that appellant "must have been influenced" to make the last statement because of the existence of the first two. Thus, he argues, his final confession was "tainted" by his two earlier confessions.

Initially we note that the record does not demonstrate that appellant's first two confessions should have been excluded on the basis of his intoxication. Intoxication short of "mania" (or such an impairment of the mind or will as to make the person confessing unconscious of the meaning of his words), will not render a confession inadmissible. Jackson v. State, Ala.Cr.App., 375 So.2d 558 (1979); Rogers v. State, Ala.Cr.App., 365 So.2d 322, cert. den. 365 So.2d 334 (Ala.1978); Medders v. State, Ala.Cr.App., 342 So.2d 49 (1977).

From the record:

"Q. (By defense counsel) What do you mean by intoxication, sir?

"A. (By Officer Enich) To me he is obviously under the influence of alcohol, he was speech was slurred, his dress and manner was sloppy.

"Q. Did he have any trouble knowing where he was?

"A. I couldn't say for sure his state of mind, sir.

"Q. Did he have any trouble knowing who you were as far as being an officer of the law?

"A. No, sir, he recognized us as police officers.

"Q. He recognized you as police officers. Did he recognize where he was as far as the jailhouse?

"A. Best that I could tell he did, yeah.

"Q. Did he have any trouble understanding your words, what you were saying, as far as understanding them?

"A. No, sir, I believe we made ourselves clear with him.

"Q. Was he drunk that he couldn't stand up by himself?

"A. He was able to stand by himself.

"Q. Was he able to walk by himself?

"A. Yes, sir.

"Q. At any time did he pass out?

"A. No, sir, not while I was there.

....

"Q. Officer Enich, if you had run up on Mr. Hollis in the condition that you saw him in down there at the jail on a public street, would you have arrested him?

"A. Yes, sir, under his condition I would have.

"Q. For public intoxication?

"A. Yes.

....

"Q. (By defense counsel) At the time that you advised Mr. Hollis of his rights and he signed the waiver form there, and at the time you took his statement, in your opinion, was Mr. Hollis drunk?

"A. (By Capt. Rigsby) He was drinking.

"Q. Do you recall testifying at the preliminary hearing in this case, Mr. Rigsby?

"A. Uh huh.

"Q. Do you recall telling us at that time that he was drunk, not as drunk as you had seen him before, but he was drunk?

"A. That's right."

Although we recognize that the learned trial judge ruled, out of an abundance of caution, that the confessions were inadmissible, we (having the benefit of hindsight) believe that the evidence fell short of establishing the "mania" necessary to render the statements involuntary. The fact that appellant was so intoxicated that he would have been arrested for public drunkenness is not sufficient. Woods v. State, 54 Ala.App. 591, 310 So.2d 891 (1975).

Even if appellant's first two confessions were properly excluded, however, it would not follow that his last confession was also inadmissible because it was the product of the first two. United States v. Bayer, 331 U.S. 532, 540, 67 S.Ct. 1394, 1398, 91 L.Ed. 1654 (1947). In this context, we believe the following observation by the United States Supreme Court in Bayer, supra, is apt:

"Of course, after an accused has once let the cat out of the bag by confessing, no matter what the inducement, he is never thereafter free of the psychological and practical disadvantages of having confessed. He can never get the cat back in the bag. The secret is out for good. In such a sense, a later confession always may be looked upon as fruit of the first. But this Court has never gone so far as to hold that making a confession under circumstances which preclude its use, perpetually disables the confessor from making a usable one after those conditions have been removed."

The rationale for excluding any confession made after an involuntary one is that the later confession flows from the same improper influence or inducement as the earlier one. United States v. Bayer, supra; McAdory v. State, 62 Ala. 154 (1878); Levison v. State, 54 Ala. 520 (1875); Cook v. State, 16 Ala.App. 390, 78 So. 306 (1918). By the same token, once it is shown that the improper influence or inducement has been dispelled, there is no reason not to admit the subsequent confession. Cook v. State, supra. In Levison v. State, supra, the court observed:

"The first confession is regarded as the parent of the succeeding confessions, and that being...

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