State v. Long, 9880

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho
Citation423 P.2d 858,91 Idaho 436
Docket NumberNo. 9880,9880
PartiesSTATE of Idaho, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Harley Madison LONG, Defendant-Respondent.
Decision Date13 February 1967

Allan G. Shepard, Atty. Gen., M. Allyn Dingel, Jr., Deputy Atty. Gen., Boise, Richard G. Magnuson, Pros. Atty., Shoshone County, Wallace, for appellant.

Brown, Peacock & Keane, Kellogg, for respondent.

McFADDEN, Justice.

Defendant Harley Madison Long, respondent herein, was charged by an amended information with the crime of involuntary manslaughter in the operation of a motor vehicle (I.C. § 18-4006) alleged to have been committed on March 31, 1965. The amended information alleges the crime was committed as follows:

'That Harley M. Long of Wallace on or about the 31st day of March, 1965, at Wallace, in the County of Shoshone and State of Idaho, then and there being, did then and there engage in the running, driving and operating of a motor vehicle on a public highway, to-wit: U. S. Highway No. 10 at a point near and easterly from the intersection of said highway and Second Street, in the City of Wallace, Idaho, and while so engaged did wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously drive, manage and operate said motor vehicle in an unlawful, negligent, heedless, reckless and careless manner, and with gross negligence and without due caution and circumspection or regard to the safety of others, while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, and while making a left turn from the surface of U. S. Highway No. 10 and in a grossly negligent manner so as to endanger persons and property; and that while driving and operating said motor vehicle, he did then and there at said time and place and in the manner aforesaid, wilfully, unlawfully, and feloniously drive said motor vehicle into and against the vehicle driven by Byron E. Koenig, a motorcyclist, who was then and there riding a motor cycle traveling in an easterly direction in the southerly lane of said highway; that as a proximate and direct result thereof, the said Byron E. Koenig did then and there receive mortal wounds and injuries from the effect of which said Byron E. Koenig died on or about the 31st day of March, 1965, in the County of Shoshone, Idaho, and in the manner aforesaid the said Harley Madison Long did wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously, but without malice, kill the said Byron E. Koenig, a human being, and commit the crime of Involuntary Manslaughter in the Operation of a Motor Vehicle, (Section 18-4006 (2a), Idaho Code).'

Respondent moved for a dismissal of the information claiming that the statute under which he was charged was unconstitutional. The trial court, treating the motion as one to quash the information, granted the motion and the action was dismissed. The state appealed from the order and judgment of dismissal and on this appeal assigns error on the part of the trial court in holding I.C. § 18-4006 unconstitutional and in dismissing the action.

Involved in resolution of the issue presented by this appeal is that portion of I.C. § 18-4006, which pertains to manslaughter arising from operation of a motor vehicle, and which was added to the definition of involuntary manslaughter by S.L. 1965, Ch. 136, which reads as follows:

'Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being, without malice. It is of two kinds:

1. Voluntary-* * *.

2. Involuntary-* * *; or in the operation of a motor vehicle:

(a) In the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, with gross negligence; or,

(b) In the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, and with gross negligence; or,

(c) In the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, without gross negligence; or,

(d) In the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, but without gross negligence.

Provided, this provision relating to operation of a motor vehicle shall not be construed as making any homicide in the driving of a vehicle punishable as involuntary manslaughter which is not a proximate result of the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, or of the commission of a lawful act which might produce death in an unlawful manner.'

The positions of the respective parties in regard to this statute are diametrically opposed, the state contending that this statute is a valid enactment by the legislature, contravening no constitutional provisions; the respondent contends, however, that the statute is unconstitutional in that by its terms it is so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning; that a defendant in a criminal case has an absolute right to be informed of the exact charge against him and of the specific offense for which he is to be tried. United States Const. Amend. 14; Idaho Const. Art. 1 § 13; State v. Evans, 73 Idaho 50, 245 P.2d 788.

The trial judge, in sustaining respondent's motion, stated that he was most concerned with the application of the statute in regard to 'the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner'; that he could not visualize a situation not covered by the motor vehicle act where one could operate a vehicle and commit a lawful act which might produce death in an unlawful manner; that inasmuch as it was not understandable in that regard, the statute was so vague and indefinite that it could not be considered as constitutional.

Prior to 1949, (when I.C. § 18-4006 and I.C. § 18-4007 were amended), I.C. § 18-4006, in defining the crime of involuntary manslaughter, provided:

'Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being, without malice. It is of two kinds:

1. Voluntary-* * *.

2. Involuntary-in the perpetration of or attempt to perpetrate any unlawful act, other than arson, rape, robbery, burglary, or mayhem, or in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection.'

I.C. § 18-4007 provided that punishment for manslaughter was by imprisonment in the state prison not exceeding ten years.

Prior to the 1949 amendments, informations for involuntary manslaughter involving the operation of a vehicle were filed under the provisions of what was then I.C. § 18-4006. State v. Gee, 48 Idaho 688, 284 P. 845; State v. Brooks, 49 Idaho 404, 288 P. 894; State v. Frank, 51 Idaho 21, 1 P.2d 181; State v. Monteith, 53 Idaho 30, 20 P.2d 1023; State v. Freitag, 53 Idaho 726, 27 P.2d 68; State v. Hintz, 61 Idaho 411, 102 P.2d 639; State v. Taylor, 67 Idaho 313, 177 P.2d 468; State v. Shlhus 68 Idaho 75, 189 P.2d 372; State v. Wheeler, (Crime committed 1948) 70 Idaho 455, 220 P.2d 687; See also State v. McMahan, 57 Idaho 240, 65 P.2d 156.

In State v. Brooks, supra, this court stated:

'The court instructed the jury substantially in the language of the statute as to what constituted a violation of the law in the manner of driving a vehicle on the highway, employing the words as in the statute set forth, 'without due caution and circumspection or in a manner so as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property.' * * * Ordinarily, the language employed by the Legislature in defining a crime is deemed to be best suited for that purpose, and error cannot be predicated upon its use in informations and instructions. The Legislature has the power to declare what the law shall be on the subject, and, its definition of the offense of involuntary manslaughter having been stated to the jury, in effect, the law upon that point was sufficiently covered, and it was not error for the court to refuse to amplify thereon. * * *.' 49 Idaho at 409, 288 P. at 896.

In State v. Hintz, supra, following the opinion of this court in State v. McMahan, supra, this court held that the statutory provisions concerning involuntary manslaughter must be construed in conjunction with the provisions of what is now I.C. § 18-114, which requires that in every crime or public offense there must exist a union, or joint operation of act and intent, or criminal negligence. In the Hintz case, the McMahan case is quoted as follows:

'In order to properly construe that section (I.C. § 18-114), full force and effect must be given to the qualifying word 'criminal,' used in connection with the word 'negligence."

'In the McMahan case, we further said:

'The term 'criminal negligence,' as used in that section, does not mean merely the failure to exercise ordinary care, or that degree of care which an ordinarily prudent person would exercise under like circumstances. It means gross negligence. It is such negligence as amounts to a reckless disregard of consequences and of the rights of others." 61 Idaho at 418, 102 P.2d at 642.

In 1949, both I.C. § 18-4006 and § 18-4007 were amended. By S.L.1949 Ch. 126, p. 221, there was added to the definition of involuntary manslaughter the following:

'* * * or in the operation of a motor vehicle in a reckless, careless or negligent manner which produces death; * * *.'

and the punishment was fixed for involuntary manslaughter by a fine of not more than $1,000, or imprisonment not exceeding ten years, or both.

In State v. Scott, 72 Idaho 202, 239 P.2d 258, this court was dealing with the statute as thus amended, the alleged crime having been committed on July 13, 1950. Therein this court stated:

'* * * It is asserted that in giving this instruction the court 'has mistaken the identity of a lawful act committed in an unlawful manner with an unlawful act.' This assignment of error is without merit. The defendant is not charged with committing a lawful act in an unlawful manner, thereby causing the death of another. The defendant is charged with the commission of unlawful acts (the operation of a motor vehicle upon the public highways of this state while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, carelessly, negligently and recklessly and without due caution and circumspection, which acts are expressly forbidden, condemned and made unlawful by Secs. 49-502 and 49-503,...

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