People v. Holder

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Citation40 Cal.Rptr. 655,230 Cal.App.2d 50
Decision Date29 September 1964
Docket NumberCr. 3570
PartiesThe PEOPLE of the State of California, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Jimmie Allen HOLDER, Defendant and Appellant.

Tebbe, Correia & Kleaver, Yreka, for appellant.

Stanley Mosk and Thomas Lynch, Attys. Gen., by Doris H. Maier, Asst. Atty. Gen., by Anthony S. DaVigo, Deputy Atty. Gen., Sacramento, for respondent.

FRIEDMAN, Justice.

Defendant was charged with two counts of manslaughter by vehicle (Pen.Code, sec. 192, subd. 3(a)) in the killing of Elmer Ernest Leatherman and Elvira Leatherman. By stipulation the issue of his guilt or innocence was submitted on the record of the preliminary examination. The trial court found him guilty and he appeals from the ensuing judgment.

His primary contention is insufficiency of the evidence to justify the finding of guilt. The test on appeal is not whether guilt has been established beyond a reasonable doubt, but whether there is substantial evidence to support the conclusion of the fact trier. The reviewing court will assume in favor of the verdict or finding the existence of every fact which the fact-finder could reasonably deduce and then determine whether such facts support the verdict or finding. (People v. Daugherty, 40 Cal.2d 876, 885, 256 P.2d 911.)

Death as a proximate result of the defendant's unlawful driving is an essential element of proof in vehicle manslaughter cases. (People v. Tracy, 199 Cal.App.2d 163, 168-169, 18 Cal.Rptr. 487; People v. Freudenberg, 121 Cal.App.2d 564, 583, 263 P.2d 875.) The oral testimony described a collision between an automobile driven by defendant and one occupied by the decedents. Defendant does not urge inadequacy of the evidence regarding his own role in the accident. Rather, the question is whether there is any substantial evidence of the Leathermans' deaths in the accident.

Two witnesses testified at the preliminary examination. Robert Chapman testified that on December 13, 1963, he witnessed an automobile accident on Highway 99 about 12 miles north of Yreka. He testified that he was traveling in a northerly direction following two vehicles, the first of which was a Volkswagen bus. He saw a white 1960 Chevrolet come around a curve at 60 miles per hour, traveling in a southerly direction. At least one-half of the Chevrolet was in the northbound lane. The Chevrolet collided head-on with the Volkswagen bus, which was entirely in the northbound lane. The Chevrolet did not appear to swerve from its course to avoid the collision. Chapman, after observing the collision, turned around and went to a place which he called Bur-Bel and telephoned the Highway Patrol. He did not see defendant at any time.

The other witness was Officer Schoellerman of the California Highway Patrol, who investigated the accident. Schoellerman received a call relative to the accident at 5:44 p. m. on December 13, 1963. He went to the accident scene, about 12 miles north of Yreka. Schoellerman spoke to defendant, who identified himself as the driver of the Chevrolet. In Schoellerman's opinion, defendant was under the influence of alcohol at the time. Schoellerman identified the occupants of the Volkswagen bus as Mr. and Mrs. Leatherman. Schoellerman observed that most of the physical evidence, including gouge marks in the road, debris and mud, was in the northbound lane. There was a skid mark (made by one of the right wheels of the Chevrolet, in Schoellerman's opinion) 24 feet long beginning approximately six inches west of the center line in the southbound lane and terminating two inches west of the center line.

Certified copies of two death certificates by the coroner of Siskiyou County were admitted in evidence. In a space provided for the immediate cause of death, both certificates described rupture of internal organs and massive hemorrhage. Although the printed form called for 'underlying cause' of death, neither certificate bore a responsive entry at that point. In a space provided for 'injury information,' both certificates specified 'accident,' described as 'Head on automobile collision' occurring at 5:40 p. m., December 13, 1963, at a place described as 'Highway' located at Hornbrook, Siskiyou County. The death certificate of Mr. Leatherman indicated that the place of death was 'Highway 99--Approx. 3 miles north of Bur-Bel resort' at Hornbrook in Siskiyou County. Time of death was stated as December 13, 1963, 5:40 p. m. The death Certificate of Mrs. Leatherman indicated that she died at Siskiyou County General Hospital at Yreka, California, on December 13, 1963, at 7:55 p. m.

As to cause of death, the oral testimony established only that Mr. and Mrs. Leatherman had been involved in a collision with a car driven by defendant. The prosecution did not ask Officer Schoellerman to testify as to the physical condition of either Mr. or Mrs. Leatherman when he saw them and did not inquire whether either was dead, injured or utterly unscathed. The prosecution did not call the coroner, the autopsy surgeon or anyone else who might have been able to establish injuries resulting from the accident described in the oral testimony.

Health and Safety Code section 10252 provides that the coroner shall state on the death certificate 'the disease or condition directly leading to death, antecedent causes, other significant conditions contributing to death and such other medical and health section data as many be required on the certificate, and the hour and day on which death occurred.' Section 10577 of the same code declares that a properly certified copy of the death certificate is prima facie evidence of the facts stated therein.

The authorities are in disagreement as to which elements of the death certificate are statements of 'fact' and which are not. The line between fact and opinion is often thin and indistinct. (Healy v. Visalia & T. R. Co., 101 Cal. 585, 589, 36 P. 125; 7 Wigmore on Evidence (3d ed.) sec. 1919.) Occurrence of death is doubtless a fact which is proved prima facie by the certificate. (Estate of Wolleb, 56 Cal.App.2d 488, 494-495, 132 P.2d 864.) So is the date of death. (People v. Strickland, 148 Cal.App.2d 18, 23, 306 P.2d 40.) The cause of death, however, may amount only to an opinion or conclusion, sometimes resulting from inferences drawn by a medical expert. People v. Terrell, 138 Cal.App.2d 35, 57-58, 291 P.2d 155, disapproves evidentiary use of a private hospital record diagnosing the cause of death, stating that such a diagnosis expresses a conclusion, not a fact. People v. Williams, 174 Cal.App.2d 364, 390, 345 P.2d 47, recognizes the Terrell case and the distinction between fact and medical opinion in connection with evidentiary use of public autopsy records. People v. Proctor, 108 Cal.App.2d 739, 239 P.2d 697, holds that death certificate entries such as 'accidental,' 'suicidal' or 'homicidal' 'amount only to an opinion or conclusion, not admissible to establish the cause of death. Other decisions assume without discussion that cause of death (no matter how dependent on medical conclusions) is a fact which may be established prima facie by the certificate. (Robinson v. Western States Gas etc. Co., 184 Cal. 401, 406-407, 194 P. 39; People v. Hopper, 168 Cal.App.2d 406, 410, 336 P.2d 28; People v. Crozier, 119 Cal.App.2d 204, 203, 258 P.2d 1029; Bennett v. Brady, 17 Cal.App.2d 114, 118, 61 P.2d 530; Bryson v. Manhart, 11 Cal.App.2d 691, 696, 54 P.2d 778.)

The point of the matter is not that conclusionary entries on death certificates are necessarily unreliable; rather, that Health and Safety Code section 10577 would permit their admission as hearsay. The coupling of hearsay and conclusionary elements in a single piece of evidence arouses the more fundamental...

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12 cases
  • Birkhead v. State , 2007–KA–00666–SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • February 17, 2011
    ...available for cross-examination by the defense.State v. Watson, 281 N.C. 221, 188 S.E.2d 289, 232 (1972) (quoting People v. Holder, 230 Cal.App.2d 50, 40 Cal.Rptr. 655 (1964)).Conclusion ¶ 88. While I agree with the majority, for different reasons, that we cannot reverse based on the admiss......
  • State v. Watson, 35
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    • United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • May 10, 1972
    ...on this question. The California cases decided by these courts are reviewed and the better rule stated in the case of People v. Holder, 230 Cal.App.2d 50, 40 Cal.Rptr. 655, where the Court 'The authorities are in disagreement as to which elements of the death certificate are statements of '......
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    ...of suicide as a conclusive presumption which the plaintiff could not further dispute. The line of cases, including People v. Holder (1964) 230 Cal.App.2d 50, 40 Cal.Rptr. 655; McClaflin v. Bayshore Equipment Rental Co., 274 Cal.App.2d 446, 79 Cal.Rptr. 337; Romero v. Volunteer State Life In......
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    ...entire entry, the latter was inadmissible in the present case and the trial court correctly excluded it. (See People v. Holder (1964) 230 Cal.App.2d 50, 53--54, 40 Cal.Rptr. 655; Behr v. County of Santa Cruz (1959) 172 Cal.App.2d 697, 704--706, 342 P.2d Plaintiffs' remaining contentions on ......
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