State v. Hathaway

Decision Date11 April 1936
Docket Number32686.
Citation56 P.2d 89,143 Kan. 605
CourtKansas Supreme Court

Syllabus by the Court.

Giving oral instruction on statutory penalties for various degrees of murder and manslaughter, after jury had reported that agreement was hopeless, held prejudicial error (Rev.St.1923 62--1438, 62--1447).

In prosecution against defendant charged with killing one of boys who were allegedly raiding defendant's pear trees instruction that person is presumed to intend what he voluntarily does and all natural and probable results of his voluntary acts, held not error, though defendant testified that he did not intend to shoot deceased, but only to scare boys.

1. The giving of an oral instruction to the jury on the subject of the statutory penalties for the various degrees of murder and manslaughter, after the jury had deliberated on their verdict for some time and had reported that an agreement was hopeless, was in breach of the Criminal Code, and prejudicially erroneous.

2. Other errors urged against the verdict and judgment considered, and not sustained.

Appeal from District Court, Wyandotte County, Division No. 1; Edward L. Fischer, Judge.

Leanard Hathaway was convicted of manslaughter in the first degree and he appeals

Reversed and remanded.

HARVEY J., dissenting.

J. H. Brady, and N. E. Snyder, both of Kansas City, for appellant.

Clarence V. Beck, Atty. Gen., Theo. F. Varner, Asst. Atty. Gen., and Arthur J. Stanley, Jr., Co. Atty., and Don C. Little, Asst. Co. Atty., both of Kansas City, for the State.

DAWSON Justice.

This is an appeal from a judgment of conviction of manslaughter in the first degree.

The state's evidence tended to show that on August 6, 1934, defendant resided in Kansas City. About noon on that day, while defendant was eating his dinner, his wife noticed some boys who were in his back yard helping themselves to his pears. She so informed her husband, and took an army revolver from a trunk and laid it on the buffet. Defendant picked up the revolver, walked to the back door, took aim at one of the boys, Goldie Lee, who was stooping to pick up a pear, and as the boy straightened up defendant shot him through the chest. The lad ran out of the yard, crossed a fence, and expired a short distance away. After shooting young Lee, defendant ran out into his back yard, caught another boy, and struck him twice, and then pursued a third boy, snapping his pistol at him, until he came to where Goldie Lee was lying on the ground. Defendant aimed his revolver at the dead or dying Lee, and snapped it, but it did not go off. Later, in a statement to the police, defendant said that he merely used his revolver to scare the boys, and that the one shot he fired had been aimed toward the ground.

At the trial defendant's evidence tended to show that for some time prior to this tragedy he had been annoyed by trespassers and burglars and thieves, and that his wife claimed that these crimes had been committed by the same boys who were raiding his pear trees on the occasion of this homicide.

The cause went to the jury about 3 o'clock on a Saturday afternoon. At 5:35 p. m. the same day, the foreman advised the court that the jury were "hopelessly locked." Under admonition they were excused until the following Monday morning. At that time the foreman advised the court that the jury desired that some of the testimony be read to them. This was done.

Then the foreman stated that the jury wished to be instructed as to the penalties for the various degrees of murder and manslaughter. Over defendant's objection, the trial court orally gave such an instruction, and also orally instructed the jury as to the purpose of a criminal trial and the desirability of verdicts. In part the court said: "*** Now, I want to state this to the jury in this case: The purpose of these trials is to do justice, and to reach conclusions and to determine the matters that are submitted to you. We are not here just for the purpose of trying cases, but we are here for the purpose of also to dispose of them. And you will understand, of course, that a disagreement in a case of this kind does not help dispose of business. It merely makes it a matter of trial here again at another term and another time. It is important that we have verdicts, not disagreements, if the jury can conscientiously get together on the facts under the instructions. And I want you to go out and make a careful study of this case again. Consider the evidence and these instructions and see if you cannot reach a verdict this time. *** And this instruction I just have given you, that statement in regard to the penalties, really an instruction, I will have that written down and sent to you."

The jury then retired to consider their verdict, and returned into court about noon reporting that they had reached a verdict. Counsel for defendant objected to its being received on the ground that the jury had been given oral instructions and not in writing, and moved that the jury be discharged.

The court denied the motion, but declined to receive the verdict at that time, and excused the jury until 2 o'clock p. m. Meantime, the oral instruction touching the penalties for murder and manslaughter was reduced to writing, and when the jury reconvened it was handed to them. Ten minutes later the jury returned into court and their verdict of guilty of manslaughter in the first degree was then received and approved, and judgment and sentence thereon followed; counsel for defendant raising all the usual objections thereto.

Among the errors urged by defendant, the one of particular gravity relates to the oral instruction, belatedly reduced to writing, which expounded the respective penalties attaching to the two degrees of murder and to the four degrees of manslaughter. It is an express mandate of the Criminal Code that the court's instructions to the jury shall be in writing. R.S. 62--1447. The Code also requires that these written instructions shall be read to the jury prior to the arguments of counsel. R.S. 62--1438. The importance of conforming to these provisions of the Criminal Code has been repeatedly emphasized by this court. State v. Potter, 15 Kan. 302; State v. Stoffel, 48 Kan. 364, 29 P. 685. In State v. Huber, 8 Kan. 447, which was a homicide case, the pertinent section of the syllabus reads: "Section 236 of the criminal code provides that the court 'must charge the jury in writing'; and it is error to omit to do so in any criminal case."

In State v. Bennington, 44 Kan. 583, 25 P. 91, which was a case of grand larceny, the trial court gave some instructions in writing and some of them orally; the latter being taken down by a stenographer and afterwards reduced to writing and delivered to the jury. This court held that this plain breach of the pertinent statute necessitated a reversal of the judgment of conviction. The syllabus reads: "It is error for a trial judge to give a portion of his instructions to the jury orally, though they are taken down by the stenographer at the time, and afterwards copied and delivered to the jury, on retiring, with the other instructions."

The cases we have just cited are old. It does not appear that any breach of the statutory mandate to give the jury timely instructions in writing has required the attention of this court in recent years. The attitude of the court is not so intolerant of lapses from correct procedure as it was a generation ago. In State v. Sanders, 127 Kan. 481, 485, 274 P. 223, 225, it was said: "The legislative mandate concerning technicalities in criminal appeals (R.S. 62--1718) is accorded much greater respect nowadays."

But can we say that the giving of this oral instruction was merely a technical error? The later reduction of the oral instruction to writing and giving it to the jury was an idle gesture, which served no purpose. Following the oral instruction, the jury reached their verdict, but the court declined to receive it until the belated instruction had been given to them in writing. When that was done, the verdict, already reached, was received and approved.

But the substance of the instruction itself was objectionable. This court has repeatedly held that the statutory penalty for crime is no concern of the jury. State v. O'Keefe, 125 Kan. 142, 263 P. 1052, 1053; State v. Reuter, 126 Kan. 565, 566, 268 P. 845; Levell v. Simpson, 142 Kan. 892, 52 P.2d 372. In this case the record is open to an inference, if it does not conclusively show it, that the irrelevant instruction touching the various penalties for the different degrees of homicide served the purpose of permitting the jury to dicker on their verdict, not on the innocence or guilt of defendant; but taking into consideration the penalties the jury reached a verdict when they had been "hopelessly locked" until that oral instruction respecting the penalties had been given.

It should also be kept in mind that counsel for the state and for defendant were entitled to argue the case to the jury after all pertinent instructions had been given. If this instruction had been germane to the offense charged and to the evidence adduced, counsel should have had an opportunity to argue its relevancy to the case. And yet it would have been rather absurd to have permitted further arguments on Monday following the giving of the criticized instruction on penalties, when the case had already been submitted to the jury on Saturday and when the jury had already deliberated on it for two and a half hours that afternoon.

Reluctant as this court is to disturb the result in this case, we find it impossible to set down anything in an opinion which would justify a decision that the giving of this instruction complained of, either in form, time, or substance,...

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13 cases
  • State v. Albano, 120,767
    • United States
    • Kansas Supreme Court
    • May 28, 2021 each case what within the limits of the law shall be the punishment—the question being one of discretion.").In State v. Hathaway , 143 Kan. 605, 56 P.2d 89 (1936), our court reversed defendant's conviction after the district court, in response to a jury question, instructed jurors on the......
  • State v. Carr
    • United States
    • Kansas Supreme Court
    • January 27, 1940
    ...trial court when the alleged instruction was given, nor called to its attention on hearing of the motion for a new trial. State v. Hathaway, 143 Kan. 605, 56 P.2d 89, cited by defendant is not in point. The record contains reference to any part of the matter and it cannot be considered. Som......
  • State v. Blake, 46512
    • United States
    • Kansas Supreme Court
    • April 8, 1972
    ...determine the punishment. State v. Andrews, 187 Kan. 458, 357 P.2d 739; State v. Lytle, 177 Kan. 408, 412, 280 P.2d 924; State v. Hathaway, 143 Kan. 605, 608, 56 P.2d 89. In State v. Andrews, supra, and in Andrews v. Hand, 190 Kan. 109, p. 115, 372 P.2d 559, p. 565, cert. den. 371 U.S. 880,......
  • State v. Lytle
    • United States
    • Kansas Supreme Court
    • March 5, 1955 by 'death, or by confinement and hard labor in the penitentiary of the state of Kansas for life.' Our court has held in State v. Hathaway, 143 Kan. 605, 56 P.2d 89, that the giving of an oral instruction as to penalties was prejudicial and reversed the case, but there the jury arrived at......
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