People v. St. Martin

Decision Date14 January 1970
Docket NumberCr. 12490
Citation1 Cal.3d 524,83 Cal.Rptr. 166,463 P.2d 390
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 463 P.2d 390 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Norman J. ST. MARTIN, Defendant and Appellant.

Coleman A. Blease, Sacramento, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for defendant and appellant.

Thomas C. Lynch, Atty. Gen., Edsel W. Haws, Deputy Atty. Gen., and Daniel J. Kremer, Deputy Atty. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

PETERS, Justice.

Defendant a life prisoner, was charged with an assault with malice aforethought and with a deadly weapon and by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury upon another inmate, James Carter. (Pen.Code, § 4500.) A jury found defendant guilty as charged and fixed the penalty at death. This appeal is automatic. (Pen.Code, § 1239, subd. (b).)

On the morning of January 7, 1968, Sergeant Clarence Wilson of the California State Prison at Folsom heard sounds of scuffling and cries of help. He recognized the voice of James Carter, an inmate calling 'Oh, God, help me.' Wilson ran to the stairway, climbed the stairs, and went to Carter's cell, which was standing open. He saw Carter on the cell's lower bunk with defendant kneeling over him. Carter was still crying for help. Wilson paused at the door and ordered defendant to come out of the cell. Defendant ignored him. Carter said, 'He has got a knife. Get him off me before he kills me.' Just after Carter spoke, Wilson saw defendant gripping something with both hands and forcing his hands down into Carter's body. Wilson grabbed defendant's sleeve, and defendant pulled away saying, 'Get out of here, Sarge.' As he spoke, Wilson observed him raise a knife and plunge the blade into Carter's chest.

The officer then attempted to drag defendant from the cell by his leg. Defendant told him to 'get out of here' and attempted to kick free of the officer's grip. Carter was also struggling with defendant. Wilson backed out of the cell, sounding his whistle to summon help, and again told defendant to give him the knife. Defendant again raised the knife, hesitated an instant, and stabbed Carter again in the chest. Another officer arrived, and he and Wilson succeeded in dragging defendant from the cell.

Carter was taken to the prison hospital where he was pronounced dead. He had cuts on his scalp, cheek, neck, ankle, and hands. The latter were 'defense' wounds, often found on someone who has been stabbed. His chest bore two deep wounds as well as a number of abrasions. Death was caused by a stab-wound approximately four inches deep which fractured his ribs, penetrated the sac surrounding the heart, touched the heart and pierced the left lung.

The only wounds on defendant were two cuts on his hands which were probably caused by holding a sharp object.

Carter's cellmate, William Jackson, testified that defendant had made threats regarding Carter and that a night or two before the homicide he heard defendant state, after Certer had walked past him, 'some day I ought to dust that son of a bitch.' Jackson said that in prison jargon 'to dust' means to kill.

At the time of the homicide, defendant was serving consecutive indeterminate life sentences for second degree murder and robbery in the first degree.

Defendant testified that Joe Morgan had told him in November of 1967 Carter was looking for someone to take a 'contract' to kill him, that on January 7 he went to Carter's cell to talk the matter out, that Carter invited him in but refused to discuss the 'beef' and ordered him out, that when he refused Carter became angry, pulled a knife from under the pillow and attacked. Defendant said he had gone to the cell unarmed, that he had no intention to harm Carter, and that he did not remember anything of the fight.

On cross-examination, defendant admitted that while in the service he was convicted of desertion and sodomy, that he was convicted of armed robbery in Michigan, and that he was convicted of armed robbery and murder, second degree, for which latter offenses he was presently confined.

Another inmate, Lawrence Hollomon, testified that he saw defendant enter Carter's cell and attempt to engage him in conversation regarding Carter's attempts to hire a killer, that Carter grabbed a knife and started a fight with defendant, that during the fight the cell door swung shut, that defendant attempted to flee but could not because of impediments on the cell floor and the closed door, that Carter was pressing a furious attack pummeling defendant with a board and hammering him with a 10-ounce jar of coffee, and that on arriving at the scene Sergeant Wilson opened the cell door to enter.

Inmate Morgan testified that in the latter part of 1967 Carter asked him to find someone to kill defendant and that subsequently Carter said he had a knife and would do the job himself. He told defendant of Carter's statements.

Inmate James Woosley testified that Carter's cellmate had said that Carter had a knife two or three days before his death and that the cellmate had attempted to persuade him to get rid of it.

Three psychiatrists testified for the defense that the victim had aggressive potential. On cross-examination they said that the victim's violent behavior had always been associated with excessive drinking. The defense also offered evidence that the offenses for which Carter was incarcerated involved the theft of a highway patrol car and an officer's gun, shooting an officer and firing at others in attempting to escape capture.

The jury was instructed that malice aforethought was a necessary element of the crime charged, and several instructions were given relating to that term. The instructions given, however, did not include one on provocation.

We recently held in a prosecution under section 4500 that it was error to refuse an instruction on provocation. (People v. Chacon, 69 Cal.2d 765, 781, 73 Cal.Rptr. 10, 20, 447 P.2d 106, 116.) We stated: 'In a prosecution for murder the presence of sufficient provocation or heat of passion negates the existence of the requisite malice aforethought. (Citation.) In the usual case, this instruction supplements the self-defense instructions. Thus, in a prosecution for murder, even though the defense of self-defense fails, as it might for excessive retaliation by the defendant, the jury might still find the original attack sufficient to constitute provocation, which would preclude a finding of malice aforethought and reduce the crime to manslaughter. Since the refusal to instruct on provocation would be erroneous in a prosecution for murder, it was erroneous here.'

The Attorney General asserts that here the instructions offered by defendant on provocation were improper in form. However, even if it be assumed that the offered instructions were erroneous, we are satisfied that the trial court in the circumstances of this case was required to instruct on provocation on its own motion.

It is settled that in criminal cases, even in the absence of a request, the trial court must instruct on the general principles of law relevant to the issues raised by the evidence. (People v. Castillo, 70 A.C. 274, 281--282, fn. 5, 74 Cal.Rptr. 385, 449 P.2d 449; People v. Henderson, 60 Cal.2d 482, 489--490, 35 Cal.Rptr. 77, 386 P.2d 677; People v. Jackson, 59 Cal.2d 375, 380, 29 Cal.Rptr. 505, 379 P.2d 937; People v. Putnam, 20 Cal.2d 885, 890, 129 P.2d 367; People v. Warren, 16 Cal.2d 103, 116--117, 104 P.2d 1024.) The general principles of law governing the case are those principles closely and openly connected with the facts before the court, and which are necessary for the jury's understanding of the case. (People v. Wilson, 66 Cal.2d 749, 759, 59 Cal.Rptr. 156, 427 P.2d 820; People v. Wade, 53 Cal.2d 322, 334, 1 Cal.Rptr. 683, 348 P.2d 116.) In application of these rules, this court has recognized that the trial court on its own motion must instruct on the issue of diminished capacity in a murder case where there is substantial evidence that the defendant is relying upon such a defense. (People v. Castillo, Supra, 70 A.C. 274, 281--282, 74 Cal.Rptr. 385, 449 P.2d 449; People v. Henderson, Supra, 60 Cal.2d 482, 490--491, 35 Cal.Rptr. 77, 386 P.2d 677; see People v. Conley, 64 Cal.2d 310, 319, 49 Cal.Rptr. 815, 411 P.2d 911.)

Similarly, where substantial evidence is presented sufficient to inform the court that the defendant is relying upon provocation to show that he did not act with malice aforethought in a prosecution under section 4500, the court must instruct on its own motion on the issue of provocation. The close analogy between the defenses of diminished capacity and considerable provocation, both of which negate malice aforethought, has recently been pointed out by this court in a case involving section 4500 (People v. Chacon, Supra, 69 Cal.2d 765, 781, 73 Cal.Rptr. 10, 447 P.2d 106), and no reason appears to view the two defenses differently with regard to the court's duty to instruct on its own motion. If anything, the court's duty is stronger where the issue is provocation because provocation is explicitly dealt with in the code section relating to malice aforethought. (Pen.Code, § 188.)

In the instant case, there is substantial evidence of provocation. Defendant's testimony and the testimony of inmate Hollomon are that Carter drew a knife and attacked defendant. Their testimony is not directly contradicted by the only other witness to the killing, Sergeant Wilson, who arrived at the cell after the fight commenced. Although in view of the circumstantial evidence and the impeachment of defendant and inmate Hollomon the jury was not required to accept their version of what occurred, their testimony constitutes substantial evidence upon which a finding of provocation could be predicated.

The error in failing to instruct on provocation must be deemed prejudicial. In the light of the substantial, direct testimony of provocation, we cannot assume that the jury would have rejected it in...

To continue reading

Request your trial
370 cases
  • People v. Smith
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • May 17, 1984 all or nothing approach to the issue of guilt. Our courts are not gambling halls but forums for the discovery of truth." (People v. St. Martin (1970) 1 Cal.3d 524, Page 533, 83 Cal.Rptr. 166, 463 P.2d 390; People v. Geiger (1984) 35 Cal.3d 510, 519-520, 199 Cal.Rptr. 45, 674 P.2d 1303.) ......
  • People v. Harvey
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • December 21, 1984
    ...instruction was, under these circumstances, "necessary for the jury's understanding of the case." (People v. St. Martin (1970) 1 Cal.3d 524, 531, 83 Cal.Rptr. 166, 463 P.2d 390; People v. Wickersham, supra, 32 Cal.3d at p. 323, 185 Cal.Rptr. 436, 650 P.2d Even had the instruction been requi......
  • People v. Stompro
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • February 26, 1981
    ...elements of the lesser one. (People v. Cannady (1972) 8 Cal.3d 379, 390, 105 Cal.Rptr. 129, 503 P.2d 585; People v. St. Martin (1970) 1 Cal.3d 524, 536, 83 Cal.Rptr. 166, 463 P.2d 390.) We are of the opinion that, under this standard, it is clearly established that auto theft is not a lesse......
  • Michael L., In re
    • United States
    • California Supreme Court
    • July 25, 1985
    ...of truth.' " (People v. Geiger (1984) 35 Cal.3d 510, 520, 199 Cal.Rptr. 45, 674 P.2d 1303, quoting People v. St. Martin (1970) 1 Cal.3d 524, 533, 83 Cal.Rptr. 166, 463 P.2d 390.)4 "[T]he burden of establishing that the evidence is material is met when the defendant shows that there is 'a re......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Table of cases
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books California Objections
    • March 29, 2023
    ...161 Cal. Rptr. 634, §7:150 St. George v. Superior Court (1949) 93 Cal. App. 2d 815, 209 P.2d 823, §16:90 St. Martin, People v. (1970) 1 Cal. 3d 524, 83 Cal. Rptr. 166, §22:10 Sta Ana, People v. (2021) 73 Cal. App. 5th 44, 288 Cal. Rptr. 3d 97, §19:140 Stamps, People v. (2016) 3 Cal. App. 5t......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT