People v. Garbutt

CourtSupreme Court of Michigan
Citation17 Mich. 9
Decision Date28 April 1868
PartiesThe People v. Robert Garbutt

17 Mich. 9

The People
Robert Garbutt

Supreme Court of Michigan

April 28, 1868

Heard April 21, 1868; April 22, 1868 [17 Mich. 10] [Syllabus Material] [17 Mich. 11] [Syllabus Material] [17 Mich. 12] [Syllabus Material] [17 Mich. 13]

Defendant was tried and convicted in the recorder's court at Detroit, upon an information for murder.

The facts are stated in the opinion.

Conviction set aside and a new trial awarded.

Wm. L. Stoughton, attorney-general, for the people:

The defendant was convicted in the recorder's court of the city of Detroit, of the crime of murder in the first degree. The fact of the homicide is not denied. The questions raised by the bill of exceptions relate to the admission of evidence and the charge of the court.

1. The counsel for the defendant requested the court to charge the jury "that malice is a necessary element in the commission of murder, and must be proved by the prosecution as part of this case."

The court gave the charge as requested; adding the words "either by inference from other facts proved in the case, or by direct proof from declarations and acts of the defendant."

This qualification was necessary and proper. Malice is sometimes a mere inference of law from the facts proved: 1 Bish. C. L., § 263; 1 Whart. Am. C. L., 944; 11 Humph. 172; 1 Ashm. 289; 5 Blackf. 299; 1 East P. C., 371; 1 Hill 377; 5 Cush. 535; 5 Mich. 1; 10 Id. 218.

2. The court also instructed the jury "that the law so far regarded human infirmity that if a man under the influence of passion, excited by reasonable provocation, should lose all self-control and kill another, the presumption of malice would be repelled, and the offense would be manslaughter.

"That what is such reasonable provocation is a question of law for the court, and in this case the fact that La Plante succeeded in inducing Miss Boucher to give up the defendant and marry him, was not such reasonable provocation as will reduce the killing of La Plante from murder to manslaughter."

The court did not charge that there was no reasonable provocation in this case. As a legal proposition the instruction was clearly correct. There is a large number of cases where the courts have declared that certain alleged facts do not constitute reasonable provocation: 1 Whart. Am. C. L., 970-986, and cases there cited; 3 Greenl. Ev., § 125; 2 Ld. Raymond, 1493; 8 C. & P., 182; 10 Mich. 212

3. The counsel for the defendant, after the jury had been charged, also requested a further charge to the jury, "that as to good reputation it is for the jury to consider whether such reputation tends to rebut the presumption of malice."

The court refused to give the charge, on the ground that it might mislead the jury, without further explanation, which the court did not feel bound then to give.

The charge requested was broad and unqualified, and would necessarily tend to mislead the jury: 1 Whart. Am. C. L., 643-646; 5 Cush. 535.

4. The rulings of the court in refusing to admit certain evidence offered by the defendant were correct.

a. The evidence offered by the defendant to show that the reputation of La Plante, the deceased, was that of a quarrelsome man, was clearly inadmissible: Am. C. L., 641; 2 Gray 294; 16 Ill. 17; 17 Mo. 544.

b. The evidence of the temporary insanity of the defendant's brother while in the army was too remote. It did not tend to prove hereditary insanity: 6 Jones N. C., 471.

c. Evidence of the defendant's being a valiant soldier was inadmissible. It had no reference or analogy to the nature of the crime with which he was charged: 1 Bish. Cr. Pro., 489; 3 Greenl. Ev., § 25; 6 Mo. 12; 2 Wend. 352.

And evidence of his undue excitement during engagements in battle was liable to a like objection: 7 C. and P., 673; 2 Mass. 307; 10 Ga. 101.

It is well settled that voluntary intoxication of whatever degree furnishes no excuse for a crime committed under its influence: 1 Bish. Cr. L., § 298; 1 Am. C. L., § 37; 2 Barb. 566; 2 Gray 463; 2 Park. C. R., 223; Russ. & Ry., 166; 9 Humph. 663; 11 Id. 154.

Sanity is presumed to be the normal state of the human mind, and it is never incumbent upon the prosecution to give affirmative evidence that such a state exists in a particular case.

The preponderance of authority is, that if the defense be insanity, it must be substantially proved as an independent fact, and that the burden is on the defendant to prove it: Am. C. L., §§ 55 and 71; Bish. Cr. Pro., §§ 533, 534, and notes; 2 Ala. 43; 21 Mo. 464; 6 Jones N. C., 366; 1 Zabriskie 202; 3 C. & K., 188.

S. Larned, for defendant:

1. It is for the court to define the legal import of the term malice aforethought; but whether it existed or not in any particular instance is a question of fact for the jury to determine. And the court has no right to withdraw the question of malice from the jury by assuming to draw the proper inferences from the whole or any part of the facts proved as presumptions of law: 10 Mich. 218.

The burden of proof as to malice rests with the prosecution, for the reason that malice is one of the essential ingredients of the crime of murder: Ibid.

2. The court erred in excluding evidence of deceased's reputation, as to being a quarrelsome man, and as to carrying arms and threatening to use them, and that he had threatened defendant. It bears directly upon the bona fides of the defendant's conduct, the state of his mind, and the question of malice; and therefore admissible.

3. The court erred in charging that reasonable provocation was a question of law for the court, and that there was no reasonable provocation in this case.

It is, doubtless, in one sense the province of the court to define what in law will constitute a reasonable or adequate provocation; but not, in ordinary cases, to determine whether the provocation in the particular case is sufficient or reasonable. This is essentially a question of fact, and to be decided with reference to the peculiar facts of each particular case: 10 Mich. 221, 222.

The court must to some extent assume to decide upon the sufficiency of the alleged provocation when the question arises upon the admission of testimony; but after he has admitted the testimony he can not take the question away from the jury and decide it himself.

4. Intoxication to such an extent as to make the prisoner unconscious of what he was doing at the time of the commission of the offense, negatives the existence of malice; and upon principle the defendant can not be held morally responsible for any other act than that of getting intoxicated; at any rate, the offense becomes manslaughter, and not murder.

5. Whenever it appears from the evidence that at the time of doing the act charged, the prisoner was not of sound mind, but affected with insanity, and such affection was the efficient cause of the act, and that he would not have done the act but for that affection, he ought to be acquitted: 31 Ill. 385.

When insanity is set up as an excuse for the act, the defendant does not thereby assume the burden of proof upon that question. Sanity is a necessary condition to constitute the crime, and proof thereof, a part of the case to be made by the prosecution: 16 N. Y., 58; 31 Ill. 385.

It is competent for a defendant charged with crime to show the existence of hereditary insanity in his ancestors. He may also show that his brothers or sisters have been insane.

6. Upon the trial of a party for murder, evidence of his uniform good character as a man and a citizen is admissible, and there is no good reason why his character as a soldier, while engaged in the service of his country, should be excluded

7. The court erred in refusing to admit testimony of any undue and unnatural excitement about the defendant during engagements in the army.

This evidence would tend to show the condition of his mind and memory, and was therefore admissible.

8. The court erred in refusing to charge as requested by defendant, that as to good reputation it is for the jury to consider whether such reputation tends to rebut the presumption of malice.

Cooley, Ch. J. Campbell and Graves, JJ. concurred. Christiancy, J. did not sit.

OPINION [17 Mich. 14]

Cooley, Ch. J.

The defendant was convicted in the recorder's court of the city of Detroit, on an information charging him with the murder of one La Plante. On the trial it was shown that La Plante, and a young woman named Emily Boucher, were coming down Woodward avenue together, on the afternoon of September 21, 1867, when they were overtaken by the defendant, who, after a few words, fired a pistol at La Plante, wounding him mortally. No question was made that La Plante died of this wound, but it was insisted, on behalf of the defendant, that it was inflicted by him under circumstances of great provocation, sufficient to reduce the offense from murder to manslaughter; and it was further claimed that he was at the time mentally incompetent of a [17 Mich. 15] criminal intent; the reason being temporarily overthrown through the combined influence of intoxicating drinks, the great provocation, and perhaps of hereditary tendencies also.

The defendant's statement went to show that he was engaged to be married to Emily Boucher--the first day of May, 1868, being fixed upon for the ceremony; that he visited her twice a week, and had spent the evening of Tuesday, September 18th, with her as usual, but was informed by his mother on the next day of rumors that Emily was to be married to La Plante; that these rumors received confirmation from the statements of others, who added the circumstance that La Plante--who would appear to have been in better circumstances than the defendant--had deeded her forty acres of land; that defendant came to Detroit on the day of the homicide, saw La Plante and Emily get into a buggy together; followed them to a milliner's shop, where he succeeded in getting an...

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