Myers v. Murensky, No. 14159

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtMcGRAW; In this original proceeding, the relator, Jackson I. Myers, seeks a writ of prohibition against Rudolph J. Murensky
Citation162 W.Va. 5,245 S.E.2d 920
Docket NumberNo. 14159
Decision Date11 July 1978
PartiesJackson L. MYERS v. Hon. Rudolph J. MURENSKY, Judge.

Page 920

245 S.E.2d 920
162 W.Va. 5
Jackson L. MYERS
v.
Hon. Rudolph J. MURENSKY, Judge.
No. 14159.
Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.
July 11, 1978.

Syllabus by the Court

1. Ambiguous penal statutes must be strictly construed against the State and in favor of the defendant.

2. "It is a general rule that a penal statute will not be extended by construction, but must be limited to cases clearly within its language and spirit." Syl. pt. 1, State v. Larkin, 107 W.Va. 580, 149 S.E. 667 (1929).

3. This state's negligent homicide statute, W.Va. Code § 17C-5-1(a), creates only one criminal offense regardless of the number of deaths proximately caused by the single act of operating a motor vehicle in reckless disregard of the safety of others.

Harry G. Camper, Jr., Camper & Seay, Welch, for relator.

Wade T. Watson, Pros. Atty., Welch, for respondents.

McGRAW, Justice:

In this original proceeding, the relator, Jackson I. Myers, seeks a writ of prohibition against Rudolph J. Murensky, Judge of the Circuit Court of McDowell County, and Wade T. Watson, Prosecuting Attorney of McDowell County to preclude further proceedings

Page 921

against him on a [162 W.Va. 6] two-count indictment charging him with two negligent homicide offenses under W.Va. Code § 17C-5-1. 1

The criminal charges arise out of an automobile collision between the relator's automobile and a second vehicle resulting in the death of both the driver and a passenger of the latter vehicle. Counsel for the relator filed a motion to quash or dismiss the indictment, or in the alternative, to sever the counts for trial purposes or to require the State to elect upon which count it would proceed. This motion, based on several interrelated grounds, was overruled by the trial court, and the same issues are now raised in this proceeding.

The specific question we address may be stated as follows: Where a single act of a defendant results in the death of two or more persons under circumstances which would justify a conviction for negligent homicide under W.Va. Code § 17C-5-1(a), has such offense been committed as many times as there are persons killed?

The question of whether a single act can create multiple criminal offenses where there are multiple victims has resulted in a definite split of authority in this country, see, 22 C.J.S. Criminal Law § 9(2). The majority view with respect to multiple deaths from the negligent operation of a motor vehicle favors considering each death as a separate offense. Lawrence v. Commonwealth, 181 Va. 582, 26 S.E.2d 54 (1943); People v. Allen, 368 Ill. 368, 14 N.E.2d 397 (1938); 7 Am.Jur.2d Automobiles and Highway Traffic § 344 (1963); Annot. 172 A.L.R. 1053 at 1062 (1948); E. Fisher & R. Reeder, Vehicle Traffic Law, ch. 10 at 109-10 (1974 rev. ed.).

[162 W.Va. 7] Most of the decisional law examined dealt with common law manslaughter offenses. In many instances, the outcome turned on the scope of the particular jurisdictions' constitutional or common law double jeopardy jurisprudence since, prior to Benton v. Maryland, 395 U.S. 784, 89 S.Ct. 2056, 23 L.Ed.2d 707 (1969), the double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution was not applicable to the states through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. However, no such issue is presented in this proceeding.

Whether the negligent homicide statute creates separate criminal offenses for each homicide is the question we must address in light of long-standing common law principles governing the application and construction of criminal or penal...

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20 practice notes
  • State ex rel. Watson v. Ferguson, No. 14995
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • December 19, 1980
    ...the same train." 33 W.Va. at 419-20, 10 S.E. at 793. Although the double jeopardy principle did not determine Myers v. Murensky, W.Va., 245 S.E.2d 920 (1978), its implications were recognized when we decided that our negligent homicide statute, W.Va.Code, 17C-5-1(a), must be construed to cr......
  • State v. Choat, No. 17539
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 18, 1987
    ...415 (1987); syl. pt. 1, State v. Turley, 177 W.Va. 69, 350 S.E.2d 696 (1986). This Court elaborated on this point in Myers v. Murensky, 162 W.Va. 5, 245 S.E.2d 920 (1978), overruled on another point, syl. pt. 2, State v. Myers, 171 W.Va. 277, 298 S.E.2d 813 (1982): The Court is not at liber......
  • State ex rel. Simpkins v. Harvey, No. 15769
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • June 29, 1983
    ...are seldom adhered to by legislative draftsmen. Id. 8 Accord, State v. Bennett, 168 W.Va. 361, 284 S.E.2d 622 (1981); Myers v. Murensky, 162 W.Va. 5, 245 S.E.2d 920 (1978), overruled on other grounds, State v. Myers, 171 W.Va. 277, 298 S.E.2d 813 (1982). See also State v. Riley, 158 W.Va. 8......
  • State v. Hodges, No. 15622
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • June 29, 1983
    ...be strictly construed against the State. See, State v. Ball, 164 W.Va. 588, 264 S.E.2d [172 W.Va. 328] 844 (1980) and Myers v. Murensky, 162 W.Va. 5, 245 S.E.2d 920 (1980). Hodges argues that In Re Winship 397 U.S. 358, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 25 L.Ed. 368 (1970) and Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
20 cases
  • State ex rel. Watson v. Ferguson, No. 14995
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • December 19, 1980
    ...the same train." 33 W.Va. at 419-20, 10 S.E. at 793. Although the double jeopardy principle did not determine Myers v. Murensky, W.Va., 245 S.E.2d 920 (1978), its implications were recognized when we decided that our negligent homicide statute, W.Va.Code, 17C-5-1(a), must be construed to cr......
  • State v. Choat, No. 17539
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 18, 1987
    ...415 (1987); syl. pt. 1, State v. Turley, 177 W.Va. 69, 350 S.E.2d 696 (1986). This Court elaborated on this point in Myers v. Murensky, 162 W.Va. 5, 245 S.E.2d 920 (1978), overruled on another point, syl. pt. 2, State v. Myers, 171 W.Va. 277, 298 S.E.2d 813 (1982): The Court is not at liber......
  • State ex rel. Simpkins v. Harvey, No. 15769
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • June 29, 1983
    ...are seldom adhered to by legislative draftsmen. Id. 8 Accord, State v. Bennett, 168 W.Va. 361, 284 S.E.2d 622 (1981); Myers v. Murensky, 162 W.Va. 5, 245 S.E.2d 920 (1978), overruled on other grounds, State v. Myers, 171 W.Va. 277, 298 S.E.2d 813 (1982). See also State v. Riley, 158 W.Va. 8......
  • State v. Hodges, No. 15622
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • June 29, 1983
    ...be strictly construed against the State. See, State v. Ball, 164 W.Va. 588, 264 S.E.2d [172 W.Va. 328] 844 (1980) and Myers v. Murensky, 162 W.Va. 5, 245 S.E.2d 920 (1980). Hodges argues that In Re Winship 397 U.S. 358, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 25 L.Ed. 368 (1970) and Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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