State v. Guthrie, No. 22710

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtCLECKLEY; MILLER, Retired Justice, and FOX; WORKMAN; WORKMAN
Citation194 W.Va. 657,461 S.E.2d 163
Decision Date21 July 1995
Docket NumberNo. 22710
PartiesSTATE of West Virginia, Plaintiff Below, Appellee, v. Dale Edward GUTHRIE, Defendant Below, Appellant.

Page 163

461 S.E.2d 163
194 W.Va. 657
STATE of West Virginia, Plaintiff Below, Appellee,
v.
Dale Edward GUTHRIE, Defendant Below, Appellant.
No. 22710.
Supreme Court of Appeals of
West Virginia.
Submitted May 10, 1995.
Decided July 19, 1995.
Concurring Opinion of
Justice Workman, July 21, 1995.

Page 169

[194 W.Va. 663] Syllabus by the Court

1. The function of an appellate court when reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence to support a criminal conviction is to examine the evidence admitted at trial to determine whether such evidence, if believed, is sufficient to convince a reasonable person of the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, the relevant inquiry is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

2. There should be only one standard of proof in criminal cases and that is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Once a proper instruction is given advising the jury as to the State's heavy burden under the guilt beyond a reasonable doubt standard, an additional instruction on circumstantial evidence is no longer required even if the State relies wholly on circumstantial evidence.

3. A criminal defendant challenging the sufficiency of the evidence to support a conviction takes on a heavy burden. An appellate court must review all the evidence, whether direct or circumstantial, in the light most favorable to the prosecution and must credit all inferences and credibility assessments that the jury might have drawn in favor of the prosecution. The evidence need not be inconsistent with every conclusion save that of guilt so long as the jury can find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Credibility determinations are for a jury and not an appellate court. Finally, a jury verdict should be set aside only when the record contains no evidence, regardless of how it is weighed, from which the jury could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. To the extent that our prior cases are inconsistent, they are expressly overruled.

4. A trial court's instructions to the jury must be a correct statement of the law and supported by the evidence. Jury instructions are reviewed by determining whether the charge, reviewed as a whole,

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[194 W.Va. 664] sufficiently instructed the jury so they understood the issues involved and were not mislead by the law. A jury instruction cannot be dissected on appeal; instead, the entire instruction is looked at when determining its accuracy. A trial court, therefore, has broad discretion in formulating its charge to the jury, so long as the charge accurately reflects the law. Deference is given to a trial court's discretion concerning the specific wording of the instruction, and the precise extent and character of any specific instruction will be reviewed only for an abuse of discretion.

5. Although premeditation and deliberation are not measured by any particular period of time, there must be some period between the formation of the intent to kill and the actual killing, which indicates the killing is by prior calculation and design. This means there must be an opportunity for some reflection on the intention to kill after it is formed.

6. In criminal cases where the State seeks a conviction of first degree murder based on premeditation and deliberation, a trial court should instruct the jury that murder in the first degree consists of an intentional, deliberate, and premeditated killing which means that the killing is done after a period of time for prior consideration. The duration of that period cannot be arbitrarily fixed. The time in which to form a deliberate and premeditated design varies as the minds and temperaments of people differ and according to the circumstances in which they may be placed. Any interval of time between the forming of the intent to kill and the execution of that intent, which is of sufficient duration for the accused to be fully conscious of what he intended, is sufficient to support a conviction for first degree murder. To the extent that State v. Schrader, 172 W.Va. 1, 302 S.E.2d 70, (1982), is inconsistent with our holding today, it is expressly overruled.

7. Outside the context of cases involving a recommendation of mercy, it is improper for either party to refer to the sentencing possibilities of the trial court should certain verdicts be found or to refer to the ability of the trial court to place a defendant on probation.

8. The jury's sole function in a criminal case is to pass on whether a defendant is guilty as charged based on the evidence presented at trial and the law as given by the jury instructions. The applicable punishments for the lesser-included offenses are not elements of the crime; therefore, the question of what punishment a defendant could receive if convicted is not a proper matter for closing argument. To the extent the decision in State v. Myers, 159 W.Va. 353, 222 S.E.2d 300 (1976), is inconsistent with our holding, it is expressly overruled.

9. Appellate courts give strict scrutiny to cases involving the alleged wrongful injection of race, gender, or religion in criminal cases. Where these issues are wrongfully injected, reversal is usually the result. Where race, gender, or religion is a relevant factor in the case, its admission is not prohibited unless the probative value of the evidence is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.

10. The curative admissibility rule allows a party to present otherwise inadmissible evidence on an evidentiary point where an opponent has "opened the door" by introducing similarly inadmissible evidence on the same point. Under this rule, in order to be entitled as a matter of right to present rebutting evidence on an evidentiary fact: (a) The original evidence must be inadmissible and prejudicial, (b) the rebuttal evidence must be similarly inadmissible, and (c) the rebuttal evidence must be limited to the same evidentiary fact as the original inadmissible evidence.

11. An appellate court is obligated to see that the guarantee of a fair trial under Section 10 of Article III of the West Virginia Constitution is honored. Thus, only where there is a high probability that an error of due process proportion did not contribute to the criminal conviction will an appellate court affirm. High probability requires that an appellate court possess a sure conviction that the error did not prejudice the defendant.

12. " 'Where the record of a criminal trial shows that the cumulative effect of numerous errors committed during the trial prevented the defendant from receiving a fair trial, his conviction should be set aside,

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[194 W.Va. 665] even though any one of such errors standing alone would be harmless error.' Syl. pt. 5, State v. Smith, 156 W.Va. 385, 193 S.E.2d 550 (1972)." Syllabus Point 5, State v. Walker, 188 W.Va. 661, 425 S.E.2d 616 (1992).

Mary Beth Kershner, Asst. Pros. Atty., Charleston, for appellee.

Stephen D. Warner, Deputy Public Defender, Charleston, for appellant.

CLECKLEY, Justice:

The defendant, Dale Edward Guthrie, appeals the January, 1994, jury verdict of the Circuit Court of Kanawha County finding him guilty of first degree murder. In May of 1994, the defendant was sentenced to serve a life sentence with a recommendation of mercy. The defendant cites as error several instructions given to the jury and improper questions and comments made by the prosecutor. Cumulative error is asserted. He also contends there is insufficient evidence to support the verdict.

I.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

It is undisputed that on the evening of February 12, 1993, the defendant removed a knife from his pocket and stabbed his co-worker, Steven Todd Farley, in the neck and killed him. The two men worked together as dishwashers at Danny's Rib House in Nitro and got along well together before this incident. On the night of the killing, the victim, his brother, Tracy Farley, and James Gibson were joking around while working in the kitchen of the restaurant. The victim was poking fun at the defendant who appeared to be in a bad mood. He told the defendant to "lighten up" and snapped him with a dishtowel several times. Apparently, the victim had no idea he was upsetting the defendant very much. The dishtowel flipped the defendant on the nose and he became enraged.

The defendant removed his gloves and started toward the victim. Mr. Farley, still teasing, said: "Ooo, he's taking his gloves off." The defendant then pulled a knife from his pocket and stabbed the victim in the neck. He also stabbed Mr. Farley in the arm as he fell to the floor. Mr. Farley looked up and cried: "Man, I was just kidding around." The defendant responded: "Well, man, you should have never hit me in my face." The police arrived at the restaurant and arrested the defendant. He was given his Miranda rights. The defendant made a statement at the police station and confessed to the killing. 1 The police officers

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[194 W.Va. 666] described him as calm and willing to cooperate.

It is also undisputed that the defendant suffers from a host of psychiatric problems. He experiences up to two panic attacks daily and had received treatment for them at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Huntington for more than a year preceding the killing. He suffers from chronic depression (dysthymic disorder), an obsession with his nose (body dysmorphic disorder), and borderline personality disorder. The defendant's father shed some light on his nose fixation. He stated that dozens of times a day the defendant stared in the mirror and turned his head back and forth to look at his nose. His father estimated that 50 percent of the time he observed his son he was looking at his nose. The defendant repeatedly asked for assurances that his nose was not too big. This obsession began when he was approximately seventeen years old. The...

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849 practice notes
  • State v. Trail, No. 14–0887.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • October 7, 2015
    ...rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime proved beyond a reasonable doubt.Syl. pt. 1, State v. Guthrie,194 W.Va. 657, 461 S.E.2d 163 (1995). The trial court bore a similar duty in addressing Ms. Trail's challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence.When a c......
  • Coleman v. Sopher, No. 23943.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 20, 1997
    ...from the instruction. Trial courts are afforded broad discretion in formulating jury instructions. See Syl. pt. 4, State v. Guthrie, 194 W.Va. 657, 461 S.E.2d 163 (1995) (holding, in part, "[a] trial court ... has broad discretion in formulating its charge to the jury, so long as the charge......
  • State v. Allen, No. 25980.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 17, 1999
    ...trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime proved beyond a reasonable doubt." Syllabus point 1, State v. Guthrie, 194 W.Va. 657, 461 S.E.2d 163 (1995). 539 S.E.2d 105 Syl. pt. 3, State v. Easton, 203 W.Va. 631, 510 S.E.2d 465. Accord Syl. pt. 1, State v. Starkey, 161......
  • State v. Corey, No. 13–0769.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • April 23, 2014
    ...trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime proved beyond a reasonable doubt.” Syllabus point 1, State v. Guthrie, 194 W.Va. 657, 461 S.E.2d 163 (1995).Lauren M. Wilson, Sites Law Firm, Keyser, WV, for Petitioner.Patrick Morrisey, Attorney General, Christopher S. Dodr......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
849 cases
  • State v. Trail, No. 14–0887.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • October 7, 2015
    ...rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime proved beyond a reasonable doubt.Syl. pt. 1, State v. Guthrie,194 W.Va. 657, 461 S.E.2d 163 (1995). The trial court bore a similar duty in addressing Ms. Trail's challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence.When a c......
  • Coleman v. Sopher, No. 23943.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 20, 1997
    ...from the instruction. Trial courts are afforded broad discretion in formulating jury instructions. See Syl. pt. 4, State v. Guthrie, 194 W.Va. 657, 461 S.E.2d 163 (1995) (holding, in part, "[a] trial court ... has broad discretion in formulating its charge to the jury, so long as the charge......
  • State v. Allen, No. 25980.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 17, 1999
    ...trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime proved beyond a reasonable doubt." Syllabus point 1, State v. Guthrie, 194 W.Va. 657, 461 S.E.2d 163 (1995). 539 S.E.2d 105 Syl. pt. 3, State v. Easton, 203 W.Va. 631, 510 S.E.2d 465. Accord Syl. pt. 1, State v. Starkey, 161......
  • State v. Corey, No. 13–0769.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • April 23, 2014
    ...trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime proved beyond a reasonable doubt.” Syllabus point 1, State v. Guthrie, 194 W.Va. 657, 461 S.E.2d 163 (1995).Lauren M. Wilson, Sites Law Firm, Keyser, WV, for Petitioner.Patrick Morrisey, Attorney General, Christopher S. Dodr......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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