People v. Wilder

Decision Date13 July 1981
Docket NumberDocket No. 61305,No. 7,7
Citation308 N.W.2d 112,411 Mich. 328
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Ronald Tyrone WILDER, Defendant-Appellant. Calendar411 Mich. 328, 308 N.W.2d 112
CourtMichigan Supreme Court

William L. Cahalan, Pros. Atty., Michael R. Mueller, Larry L. Roberts, Asst. Pros. Attys., Detroit, for plaintiff-appellee.

Carl Ziemba, Detroit, for defendant-appellant.

MOODY, Justice.

Ronald Tyrone Wilder and codefendant Lee Chester Butts were charged with first-degree murder committed in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of a robbery (first-degree felony-murder), M.C.L. § 750.316; M.S.A. § 28.548, 1 and armed robbery, M.C.L. § 750.529; M.S.A. § 28.797. 2 Following a jury trial, defendant Wilder and codefendant Butts were found guilty of both offenses. The court sentenced defendant to life imprisonment for the first-degree felony-murder conviction and 15 to 30 years for the armed robbery conviction.

Defendant appealed to the Court of Appeals on several grounds. A majority of the Court affirmed the conviction of first-degree felony-murder. The Court found that no specific instruction on malice was required. Judge Riley dissented from this portion of the opinion. However, the Court unanimously agreed that defendant's armed robbery conviction must be vacated on the basis that defendant could not properly be convicted of both first-degree felony-murder and the underlying felony of armed robbery without violating the prohibition against double jeopardy. 82 Mich.App. 358, 266 N.W.2d 847 (1978).

Defendant applied to us, and we granted leave to appeal, on the question whether Michigan recognizes a felony-murder rule permitting malice to be supplied from the intent to commit the felony underlying the murder. The prosecutor filed a cross-appeal, and we granted leave to appeal on the question whether defendant was placed twice in jeopardy by being convicted and sentenced both for first-degree felony-murder and the underlying felony of armed robbery. 3 403 Mich. 816 (1978).

With respect to the first issue, we hold that defendant's conviction of first-degree felony-murder must be vacated on the authority of the Court's decision in People v. Aaron, 409 Mich. 672, 299 N.W.2d 304 (1980). Although the instant case was not argued and submitted together with Aaron and its companion cases, leave to appeal was granted on the same day leave was granted in Aaron, the question presented was essentially identical to the question in Aaron and its companions, and the cases were argued at the same session of this Court. Therefore, we treat this case as a companion to People v. Aaron for purposes of applying the rule stated therein.

The trial court's first-degree felony-murder instruction erroneously defined the element of malice. Thus, if charged again with first-degree felony-murder, defendant must be retried under proper instruction.

I

The evidence in this case indicated that the victim, Roosevelt Reaves, was killed by a single gunshot wound of the head inflicted by codefendant Butts during a scuffle in the hallway of the victim's apartment building. Defendant and codefendant Butts were apparently bent on obtaining money from the victim when the shooting occurred. A female acquaintance of the victim was present in the apartment when he responded to a ringing of the doorbell. She testified that she saw the victim, the defendant, and codefendant Butts in the apartment hallway. She stated that Butts had a gun and ordered her and the victim to lie on the floor. The victim struggled with the assailants and made his way to the door. At that point, the witness said, she heard a shot and saw the victim fall. The police arrived shortly afterward. Defendant was arrested four days later.

II

The felony-murder rule has traditionally allowed courts to supply the element of malice in felony-murder prosecutions from the intent to commit the underlying felony. 4 In People v. Aaron, this Court resolved the status of the felony-murder rule in Michigan jurisprudence. We first determined that Michigan has never enacted a felony-murder statute which incorporated the rule:

"Michigan does not have a statutory felony-murder doctrine which designates as murder any death occurring in the course of a felony without regard to whether it was the result of accident, negligence, recklessness or willfulness. Rather, Michigan has a statute which makes a murder occurring in the course of one of the enumerated felonies a first-degree murder:

" 'Murder which is perpetrated by means of poison, lying in wait, or other wilful, deliberate, and premeditated killing, or which is committed in the perpetration, or attempt to perpetrate arson, criminal sexual conduct in the first or third degree, robbery, breaking and entering of a dwelling, larceny of any kind, extortion, or kidnapping is murder of the first degree, and shall be punished by imprisonment for life.' M.C.L. § 750.316; M.S.A. § 28.548.

"Thus, we conclude that Michigan has not codified the common-law felony-murder rule. The use of the term 'murder' in the first-degree statute requires that a murder must first be established before the statute is applied to elevate the degree." People v. Aaron, 409 Mich. 717-718, 721, 299 N.W.2d 304.

We then decided that in the absence of a statutory felony-murder rule the common law must be consulted. Const.1963, art. 3, § 7. Under the direct challenge to the rule, we held that the common-law doctrine should be abolished in Michigan to the extent previously in force:

"Our review of Michigan case law persuades us that we should abolish the rule which defines malice as the intent to commit the underlying felony. Abrogation of the felony-murder rule is not a drastic move in light of the significant restrictions this Court has already imposed. Further, it is a logical extension of our decisions * * *.

"We believe that it is no longer acceptable to equate the intent to commit a felony with the intent to kill, intent to do great bodily harm, or wanton and willful disregard of the likelihood that the natural tendency of a person's behavior is to cause death or great bodily harm. * * * In a charge of felony-murder, it is the murder which is the harm which is being punished. A defendant who only intends to commit the felony does not intend to commit the harm that results and may or may not be guilty of perpetrating an act done in wanton or willful disregard of the plain and strong likelihood that such harm will result. Although the circumstances surrounding the commission of the felony may evidence a greater intent beyond the intent to commit the felony, or a wanton and willful act in disregard of the possible consequence of death or serious injury, the intent to commit the felony, of itself, does not connote a 'man-endangering-state-of-mind'. Hence, we do not believe that it constitutes a sufficient mens rea to establish the crime of murder.

"Accordingly, we hold today that malice is the intention to kill, the intention to do great bodily harm, or the wanton and willful disregard of the likelihood that the natural tendency of defendant's behavior is to cause death or great bodily harm. We further hold that malice is an essential element of any murder, as that term is judicially defined, whether the murder occurs in the course of a felony or otherwise. The facts and circumstances involved in the perpetration of a felony may evidence an intent to kill, an intent to cause great bodily harm, or a wanton and willful disregard of the likelihood that the natural tendency of defendant's behavior is to cause death or great bodily harm; however, the conclusion must be left to the jury to infer from all the evidence." People v. Aaron, 727-729, 299 N.W.2d 304.

What is henceforth required in all first-degree murder prosecutions in this state is that the trial court include within its instruction to the jury the element of malice as defined in Aaron. The underlying felony itself will no longer per se provide the element of malice in such prosecutions.

In the instant case, the trial court gave the following instructions as to murder:

"Now as to the first count in the information, that is murder first-degree, felony, that means this: was there a robbery or attempt(ed) robbery, and while the robbery or the attempt(ed) robbery was going on was Mr. Roosevelt Reaves killed and murdered?

"Now if the prosecution has shown you that these 2 men were acting in concert, that is together, and that they aided and assisted each other in the perpetration or the commission of a robbery, or the commission of attempt(ed) robbery, and Mr. Reaves was killed as a result of that, they have proven to you beyond a reasonable doubt that this is first-degree murder, felony. The felony being the robbery.

"Now I know you have heard of a premeditated killing. We are not concerned with that in this case, because the law supplies the premeditation and the deliberation if a person is killed in the perpetration of a robbery, or the attempt(ed) perpetration of a robbery. The prosecution does not have to prove premeditation and deliberation, it is automatically supplied because the law says that, if a person is killed in the perpetration or attempt(ed) perpetration of a robbery that is first-degree murder, felony. But you must be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that there was a robbery or the attempt(ed) perpetration of a robbery committed by these defendants, not by somebody else. And that's important. The prosecution must prove that they committed that act or attempted to commit that act of robbery and during that Mr. Reaves was killed."

It is apparent that the trial court's instruction violates the dictates of Aaron. The trial court assumed that a killing perpetrated during the commission of an armed robbery constitutes first-degree felony-murder. This approach is erroneous. Therefore, the decision of the Court of Appeals is...

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