People v. Conley, Cr. 9587

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtTRAYNOR; MOSK; McCOMB
Citation64 Cal.2d 310,49 Cal.Rptr. 815,411 P.2d 911
Parties, 411 P.2d 911 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. William Junior CONLEY, Defendant and Appellant.
Docket NumberCr. 9587
Decision Date15 March 1966

Robert Y. Bell, Ukiah, for defendant and appellant.

Thomas C. Lynch, Atty. Gen., Edward P. O'Brien, Albert W. Harris, Jr., and Robert R. Granucci, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

John W. Poulos, San Diego, as amices curiae on behalf of plaintiff and respondent.

TRAYNOR, Chief Justice.

Defendant appeals from a judgment of conviction entered on jury verdicts finding him guilty on two counts of first degree murder, finding him sane at the time of the commission of the crimes, and fixing the penalty on each count at life imprisonment. He contends that the court erred in instructing the jury on the elements of murder, in refusing to give requested instructions on manslaughter, and in admitting into evidence photographs of the victims.

Defendant shot and killed Clifton and Elaine McCool on Sunday, July 19, 1964, in Ukiah. The victims, who were married and the parents of three children, had recently reconciled after a period of separation and were preparing to move to the State of Washington. They occupied cabin No. 7 of a bungalow court near the home of defendant's sister, Goldie Haley, with whom defendant was living at the time of the killings. While the McCools were separated, Elaine became remantically involved with defendant and told him that she would get a divorce and marry him.

Defendant injured his back in an industrial accident several months before the killings and had no regular employment since that accident. On July 15, the Wednesday before the shooting, he received two compensation checks and, as was his habit when he had funds, began a prolonged period of steady drinking. He and several other witnesses testified that he drank whiskey, vodka, and finally wine continually for over three days before the homicides. Defendant also testified that he had been taking medication to relieve the pain of his back injury and an ulcer. A medical expert testified that some of the medication prescribed for defendant could have increased the effect of alcohol.

On Thursday, July 16, the defendant took Elaine and the McCool children on an outing and apparently engaged in intimate relations with Elaine. When he brought her and the children back to their cabin, she told him that she had decided to return to her husband.

On Sunday, July 19, defendant purchased a .30-.30 rifle and early that evening tried it out with two friends at a nearby dump. His friends testified that on their way back defendant said that he ought to kill the McCools, but they dismissed the remark as 'just the booze talking' and changed the subject. Thereafter, defendant went to his sister's home and drank wine until about 9:00 p. m. He then went to cabin No. 3 of the bungalow court and told other friends who lived there that he was going to kill the McCools because, 'I have been hurt by three different woman before. I can't take any more. She promised to marry me.' They attempted to dissuade him, but he said he had made up his mind. Once again, however, he was not taken seriously and his friends allowed him to leave with his rifle.

A few minutes later, four shots rang out. Upon hearing the first shots, the occupants of cabin No. 1 went to their front porch and saw defendant shoot Elaine as she was running from him. Defendant walked back to cabin No. 3, told his friends that he had killed the McCools, and then went to his sister's house and told her what he had done. He left and was found two hours later in a nearby field.

Defendant testified that he did not intend to kill the McCools and remembered nothing from the time he was drinking at his sister's house until his arrest. The results of a blood alcohol test given about three hours after the shooting showed that his blood then contained .21 per cent alcohol. A medical expert testified that this alcohol level would be sufficient to impair fine muscular coordination and judgment in the average individual and that if defendant had consumed no food or alcohol between 9:00 p. m. and midnight, the blood alcohol level at 9:00 p. m. could have been .27 per cent, but that it might have been even less than .21 per cent.

A defense psychologist testified that in his opinion defendant was in a dissociative state at the time of the killings and because of personality fragmentation did not function with his normal personality.

Both sides requested manslaughter instructions. The court ruled that even if initially there had been adequate provocation to reduce the killing from murder to manslaughter, a sufficient cooling period had elapsed as a matter of law to preclude consideration of the crime as having been committed in the heat of passion. The court suggested that if either party could present an evidentiary theory upon which a manslaughter instruction could be based it would be given but ultimately refused any such instruction, although diminished capacity and intoxication were both suggested as theories upon which instructions on manslaughter were required. This refusal was prejudicial error.

It has long been settled that evidence of diminished mental capacity, whether caused by intoxication, trauma, or disease, can be used to show that a defendant did not have a specific mental state essential to an offense. Seventeen years ago, in People v. Wells, 33 Cal.2d 330, 202 P.2d 53, we held that evidence must be admitted that shows that at the time a defendant committed an overt act he did or did not have a specific mental state such as malice aforethought. By way of examples of the classes of crimes that require proof of a specific mental state we mentioned 'the homicides, wherein, if a charge of murder in either degree is to be supported, there must be proof of malice aforethought; lacking proof of malice aforethought the homicide can be no higher offense than manslaughter.' (Id. [411 P.2d 915] at p. 346, 202 P.2d at p. 63.) Section 22 of the Penal Code provided then, as it does now, that intoxication may be shown to negate an essential state of mind. We pointed out that in providing for the admissibility of such evidence in certain circumstances cumstances the statute 'is but declaratory of what would be the rule were there no statute on the subject. * * * Thus the Legislature was at pains to insure that the (rule declaring no act less criminal because of voluntary intoxication) should not affect the general rule as to admissibility of evidence and necessity for proof relative to an essential specific state of mind.' (Id. at p. 357, 202 P.2d at p. 69.) We concluded, therefore, that evidence of an accused's abnormal mental condition that was relevant to malice aforethought was admissible, for malice aforethought was a 'particular purpose, motive, or intent' essential to the crime charged. 'Here, the offer was to show not insanity, not a lack of mental capacity to have malice aforethought, but, rather, the fact of nervous tension and that the particular tension was directly relevant to the issue of 'purpose, motive, or intent'; i. e., to the critical question as to whether defendant's overt act was done with 'malice aforethought' * * *.' (Id. at p. 356, 202 P.2d at p. 69.)

We thus clearly recognized that malice aforethought is a specific mental state and that a defendant may show that he lacked that mental state when it is an essential element of the offense of which he stands accused. Since Wells had not committed a homicide, however, it remained for later cases to demonstrate the applicability of the general rule to the manslaughter-murder distinction. It is now urged by amicus curiae that evidence of diminished capacity can serve to reduce murder from first degree to second degree, but not to reduce murder to manslaughter, on the ground that the latter class of offenses is restricted to homicides having the specific statutory elements prescribed by Penal Code, section 192. 1 This misunderstanding may have arisen from the statement in People v. Danielly, 33 Cal.2d 362, 202 P.2d 18, decided at the time of the Wells case; that 'To reduce a homicide from the class of murder to that of manslaughter the evidence must be such as to reasonably lead the jury '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 * * *. " (Id. at p. 377, 202 P.2d at p. 27.) This statement, made in reference to evidence that the court found insufficient to establish 'heat of passion,' has been interpreted as limiting the rule of the Wells case to allow a showing only of impairment of a defendant's ability to premeditate or deliberate and thus reduce an offense from first degree to second degree murder. (See 22 So.Cal.L.Rev. 471, 473.) Read in its proper context the statement implies no such limitation, as People v. Gorshen, 51 Cal.2d 716, 336 P.2d 492, demonstrates.

In the Gorshen case we considered the specific question: can 'evidence of defendant's abnormal mental or physical condition (whether caused by intoxication, by trauma, or by disease, but not amounting to legal insanity or unconsciousness) * * * be considered to rebut malice aforethought and intent to kill in a case * * * where the prosecution evidence shows infliction of a mortal wound for the purpose of killing and the evidence does not show provocation which would meet the law's definition of voluntary manslaughter, * * *.' (Id. at p. 731, 336 [411 P.2d 916] P.2d at p. 501.) In resolving this question in the affirmative we overruled earlier cases that held that the question whether the defendant was guilty of murder or manslaughter is to be decided solely on the basis of the reasonable man objective standard of provocation and also overruled those cases that held that...

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