State v. Berry, 100,512.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Kansas
Writing for the CourtThe opinion of the court was delivered by BILES, J.:
Citation292 Kan. 493,254 P.3d 1276
PartiesSTATE of Kansas, Appellee,v.Gregory L. BERRY, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 100,512.,100,512.
Decision Date22 July 2011

292 Kan. 493
254 P.3d 1276

STATE of Kansas, Appellee,
Gregory L. BERRY, Appellant.

No. 100,512.

Supreme Court of Kansas.

July 22, 2011.

[254 P.3d 1278]

Syllabus by the Court

1. The standard of review governing denial of a motion to dismiss depends on the ground on which dismissal was sought. When insufficient evidence is argued, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution to determine whether a rational factfinder could find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

2. Lesser included offense jury instructions are governed by K.S.A. 22–3414(3). It directs that instructions must be given when there is some evidence that would reasonably justify a conviction of some lesser included crime.

3. When a party claims K.S.A. 22–3414(3) requires giving an instruction on a lesser included crime, the analysis focuses on the evidence supporting the lesser offense.

4. The judicially created felony-murder instruction rule requires lesser included offense instructions only when evidence of the underlying felony is weak, inconclusive, or conflicting. The analysis focuses on the evidence supporting the underlying felony and not the evidence supporting lesser offenses.

5. K.S.A. 22–3414(3) does not exclude felony murder from its mandate and makes no exception for the felony-murder instruction rule regarding lesser included offense instructions.

6. After reviewing the felony-murder instruction rule's historical development, we conclude its use should cease. K.S.A. 22–3414(3) should be applicable to felony murder. Instructions on the lesser degrees of homicide are proper in felony-murder cases when there is some evidence reasonably justifying a conviction of some lesser included crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Language to the contrary in previous opinions is disapproved.

7. A new rule for conducting criminal prosecutions is to be applied to all cases, state or federal, pending on direct review or not yet final. A conviction generally is not considered final until (a) the judgment of conviction is rendered; (b) the availability of an appeal is exhausted; and (c) the time for any rehearing or final review has passed.

Heather R. Cessna, of Kansas Appellate Defender Office, argued the cause and was on the brief for appellant.Boyd K. Isherwood, assistant district attorney, argued the cause, and Nola Tedesco Foulston, district attorney, and Steve Six, attorney general, were with him on the brief for appellee.

The opinion of the court was delivered by BILES, J.:

[292 Kan. 494] Gregory L. Berry directly appeals his conviction and sentence for first-degree felony murder. Berry struck and killed another motorist during a high-speed getaway from a traffic stop. He was apprehended, and cocaine was discovered. The underlying felony for the first-degree felony-murder conviction was possession of cocaine. At trial, Berry requested lesser included offense instructions for second-degree reckless murder, involuntary manslaughter, and vehicular homicide. His request was denied pursuant to the judicially created felony-murder instruction rule, which treats felony murder differently when considering whether to instruct a jury on lesser included offenses. See State v. Jones, 287 Kan. 547, 556–57, 198 P.3d 756 (2008). We have jurisdiction under K.S.A. 22–3601(b)(1) (direct appeal for conviction of an off-grid crime; life sentence).

[254 P.3d 1279]

We reverse Berry's conviction and sentence on the felony-murder charge and remand for a new trial because we hold the judicially created felony-murder instruction rule must be abandoned. We do so after carefully reviewing the rule's history and concluding that the rationale for adopting it was flawed. We hold that the better course is to follow K.S.A. 22–3414(3)—the statute governing when lesser included offenses must be issued. That legislative mandate provides no exception for felony murder and makes no allowance for the felony-murder instruction rule. We explain our decision below.

[292 Kan. 495] Factual and Procedural Background

A jury convicted Berry of felony murder, possession of cocaine, and driving while a habitual violator. He pleaded no contest to criminal possession of a firearm. These convictions stem from a chain of events beginning at 1:45 a.m. on November 25, 2004, when a Sedgwick County Sheriff's Deputy driving a marked patrol vehicle spotted a dark-colored Cadillac Berry was driving. The deputy observed what he believed to be an illegitimate 30–day license tag on the vehicle. The Cadillac pulled into a motel parking lot before the deputy could initiate a stop. The deputy waited out of view for the Cadillac to continue down the street. When the Cadillac exited the parking lot, the deputy followed.

Both cars turned and traveled about a block before the deputy activated his patrol car's emergency lights. The Cadillac pulled over. The deputy exited his vehicle and approached. He examined the 30–day tag more closely. It appeared to be legitimate. The deputy then went to the driver's side window and asked Berry for his driver's license and insurance. Berry did not respond verbally. He looked around, put his vehicle into drive, and sped away. The deputy then ran back to his vehicle and pursued Berry with the patrol car's emergency lights and siren activated.

The deputy testified at trial that his vehicle's speed reached 70 miles per hour, which was still not enough to overtake Berry, who kept pulling further ahead. Eventually, the deputy slowed and deactivated his lights and siren because he knew a nearby bar was about to close. The deputy said he was concerned the high-speed chase would endanger the departing patrons, so he hoped turning off his emergency equipment would cause Berry to slow down. The deputy lost sight of the Cadillac for 30 to 45 seconds, but then saw a large plume of smoke and dust near an approaching intersection. When the deputy arrived, he saw the aftermath of a collision involving the Cadillac and a Chrysler driven by Vicki K. Brown. The Chrysler was struck on the passenger-side door, with the driver trapped inside. Brown died from injuries sustained in the accident.

When a second deputy arrived at the scene, he saw Berry, who had exited his vehicle and was wearing a black coat, running out [292 Kan. 496] of a ditch. Berry collided with the second deputy's vehicle, struck the side mirror, but continued to evade police. A short time later, Berry barged into Fernando Mendoza's house uninvited. He did not know Mendoza or his family. Mendoza testified Berry said he needed a place to rest, displayed a “big ole wad of money,” and offered to pay to stay there. Berry told Mendoza the police were after him and that he was a drug dealer. Mendoza's family called police. When Berry was apprehended, he was not wearing a black coat.

Berry consented to a medical assessment to determine if he was injured. He was taken to a hospital, examined, and released to another deputy. But as Berry stood up from the examining table and turned to be handcuffed, a clear plastic bag containing a white rock-like substance fell from his boxer shorts, landing on the floor between his legs. The bag held 9.31 grams of cocaine. A second clear plastic bag with white rocks was found by a K–9 unit searching in a field near where the unit's dog identified Berry's trail. The second bag contained 1.8 grams of cocaine. At another location in the field, a black coat was found. Footprints also were visible, with the trail ending at Mendoza's house.

Berry was charged with: (1) first-degree felony murder based on the underlying felonies of possession of cocaine with intent to

[254 P.3d 1280]

sell or, in the alternative, possession of cocaine; (2) aggravated burglary; (3) felony obstructing official duty; (4) possession of cocaine with intent to sell; (5) possession of cocaine; (6) criminal possession of a firearm; and (7) driving while a habitual violator.

Before trial, Berry filed a motion to dismiss the felony-murder charge based on two premises. First, Berry argued the victim's death was not within the res gestae of the alleged cocaine possession. He claimed that crime was complete before the car chase began, so the victim's death did not occur during commission of a felony as required by the felony-murder statute. See K.S.A. 21–3401(b). Second, Berry argued there was no causal connection with the accident because at the time Berry's car struck and killed the victim, the deputy had abandoned pursuit and Berry was no longer running from police. The motion was overruled. Subsequent motions on the same grounds for judgment of acquittal were denied [292 Kan. 497] twice more. One occurred at the close of the State's case and the other at the conclusion of all the evidence.

The jury convicted Berry of felony murder, possession of cocaine, and driving while being a habitual violator. He pled no contest to criminal possession of a firearm. He was acquitted of aggravated burglary for the Mendoza home intrusion, felony obstructing official duty, and possession of cocaine with intent to sell. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a mandatory minimum of 20 years for the felony-murder conviction. He received a consecutive 15–month sentence for possession of cocaine. The remaining sentences ran concurrently to the felony-murder sentence.

Berry filed a timely appeal but failed to properly docket it, resulting in its dismissal. The district court later held a hearing under State v. Ortiz, 230 Kan. 733, 640 P.2d 1255 (1982) (recognizing limited exceptions to permit untimely completion of appeal), and found Berry entitled to continue with his appeal.

Berry raises nine issues: (1) whether there was sufficient evidence of a direct causal connection between the cocaine possession and the killing to support the felony-murder charge; (2) whether Berry was entitled to jury instructions on lesser included offenses of felony murder; (3) whether the district court was required to issue an...

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51 practice notes
  • State v. Patterson, 118,180
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • 10 Enero 2020
    ...the commission of that felony." State v. Hobbs , 248 Kan. 342, 345-46, 807 P.2d 120 (1991), overruled on other grounds by State v. Berry , 292 Kan. 493, 254 P.3d 1276 (2011).See also State v. Hoang , 243 Kan. 40, 41-42, 755 P.2d 7 (1988) (same).The court has explained that "[f]elony murder ......
  • State v. Llamas, 104,827.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • 25 Octubre 2013
    ...prior [311 P.3d 414]decisions that we found to be unacceptably contrary to the applicable statutory provisions. See, e.g., State v. Berry, 292 Kan. 493, 512–14, 254 P.3d 1276 (2011) (overruling decades-old court-made special rule for lesser included offense instructions on felony murder in ......
  • State v. Butler, 115,604
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • 27 Abril 2018
    ...pending on direct review or not yet final.’ " State v. Mitchell , 297 Kan. 118, 124-25, 298 P.3d 349 (2013) (quoting State v. Berry , 292 Kan. 493, 514, 254 P.3d 1276 [2011] ). Thus we apply only the Sherman framework. Sherman directs appellate courts to use a two-step process to evaluate c......
  • State v. La Torre, 107,905.
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    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • 15 Agosto 2014
    ...v. Boone, 277 Kan. 208, 219, 83 P.3d 195 (2004) (quoting State v. Branning, 271 Kan. 877, 887, 26 P.3d 673 [2001] ). In State v. Berry, 292 Kan. 493, 254 P.3d 1276 (2011), the court abandoned this court-made “felony murder instruction rule.” It held instead that the statutory mandate in K.S......
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52 cases
  • State v. Dupree, 110,311.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • 29 Abril 2016
    ...cases, when there was some evidence that would reasonably justify a conviction of a lesser included crime. 304 Kan. 400 State v. Berry, 292 Kan. 493, 254 P.3d 1276 (2011), superseded by statute as recognized in State v. Todd, 299 Kan. 263, 273–74, 323 P.3d 829 (2014).However, after our opin......
  • State v. Todd, 106,021.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • 25 Abril 2014
    ...since Todd's trial affect resolution of this claim on his appeal. The first of these developments was our decision in State v. Berry, 292 Kan. 493, 254 P.3d 1276 (2011). Berry abandoned the court-made felony-murder exception to application of K.S.A. 22–3414(3). 292 Kan. at 513, 254 P.3d 127......
  • Martin v. Naik, 101,146.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • 3 Mayo 2013
    ...that we need not follow prior caselaw that ignored, contradicted, or misconstrued plain statutory language. See, e.g., State v. Berry, 292 Kan. 493, Syl. ¶ 6, 254 P.3d 1276 (2011) (rejecting court-made rule that contradicted plain language of statute); Casco v. Armour Swift–Eckrich, 283 Kan......
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    • United States
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    • 19 Junio 2020
    ...elected to retain the appeal "in the interest of judicial economy" despite its apparent mootness. 270 Kan. 842. See also State v. Berry , 292 Kan. 493, 514, 254 P.3d 1276 (2011) (court addresses issues rendered moot by reversal for reasons of judicial economy).The discretionary, policy-base......
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