U.S. v. Jones, 81-1138

Decision Date13 July 1982
Docket NumberNo. 81-1138,81-1138
Citation681 F.2d 610
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Lloyd JONES, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

J. Brendan O'Neill, Santa Monica, Cal., for defendant-appellant.

Robert A. Pallemon, Asst. U. S. Atty., Los Angeles, Cal., for plaintiff-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

Before GOODWIN, KENNEDY, and REINHARDT, Circuit Judges.

KENNEDY, Circuit Judge:

Appellant Lloyd Jones was convicted of assault with intent to commit murder in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 113(a) (1976). Jones attacked the victim in a prison cell where both were in custody and stabbed the victim about five times. Jones' defense was that he did not intend to kill the victim, but merely desired to "teach him a lesson."

The trial court informed the jury that a requisite element for conviction of the offense is the "intent to commit murder." This instruction simply repeated the statutory language, but it became misleading when coupled with other instructions defining the separate offense of murder, outside the context of an assault with intent to murder. The trial court instructed that murder was an unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought and defined malice aforethought as either an intent to take the life of another or an intent to act willfully in callous and wanton disregard of the consequences to human life. While this definition would have been correct as part of an intent instruction if the charge had been murder, the intent to act in wanton disregard of the consequences to human life is less than the specific intent to kill necessary for a conviction of assault with intent to commit murder. People v. Johnson, 30 Cal.3d 444, 637 P.2d 676, 179 Cal.Rptr. 209 (1981); People v. Murtishaw, 29 Cal.3d 733, 631 P.2d 446, 175 Cal.Rptr. 738 (1981); People v. Martinez, 105 Cal.App.3d 938, 165 Cal.Rptr. 11 (1980); R. Perkins, Criminal Law 573-74, 578 (2d ed. 1969). Where a federal criminal statute uses a common-law term of established meaning, common-law precedent generally controls. United States v. Turley, 352 U.S. 407, 77 S.Ct. 397, 1 L.Ed.2d 430 (1957).

Assault with intent to commit murder under 18 U.S.C. § 113(a) thus requires a specific intent to kill the victim, and in the special case of this offense, acting with malice by committing a reckless and wanton act without also intending to kill the victim is not sufficient for conviction. 1

The number and location of wounds inflicted upon the victim make Jones' defense that he did not intend to kill all but incredible, but we cannot say the record is entirely without evidence to support the defense. The jury may have believed Jones' story and found a specific intent to kill absent, but nevertheless found him guilty because they determined that his attack amounted to wanton conduct. In this light, we cannot say that the error in the instruction was harmless, and we are required, therefore, to reverse the conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 113(a) (1976).

REVERSED and REMANDED.

GOODWIN, Circuit Judge, dissenting.

While the trial judge could well have omitted the redundant instruction defining the crime of murder, I do not believe that the instructions given in this case, when read together, were so erroneous as to require another trial.

It is true that the California state courts have moved away from the common law understanding that murderous intent in a nonfatal assault can be...

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9 cases
  • US v. Fitzgerald, CR-87-20060-WAI.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of California
    • September 24, 1987
    ...of construing common-law terms in a federal criminal statute is to consider the common-law meaning of those terms. See United States v. Jones, 681 F.2d 610 (9th Cir.1982) (citing United States v. Turley, 352 U.S. 407, 411, 77 S.Ct. 397, 399, 1 L.Ed.2d 430, 433 (1957)); Dupree, 544 F.2d at 1......
  • U.S. v. Salamanca
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • April 9, 1993
    ...asserts that there was insufficient evidence of his specific intent to murder or maim Officer Culver. See United States v. Jones, 681 F.2d 610, 611 (9th Cir.1982) ("Assault with intent to commit murder under 18 U.S.C. § 113(a) ... requires a specific intent to kill the victim, and in the sp......
  • U.S. v. Fierros
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit
    • March 9, 1983
    ...a conviction for assault with intent to commit murder, the prosecution must prove a specific intent to kill. E.g., United States v. Jones, 681 F.2d 610 (9th Cir.1982). It is clear, however, that one accused of such an offense is not entitled to the defense that he entertained a good faith b......
  • U.S. v. Perez, 93-3003
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit
    • December 22, 1994
    ...constitutes a misstatement of the law. More precisely, it constitutes a misstatement of an element of the offense. In United States v. Jones, 681 F.2d 610 (9th Cir.1982), an instruction of this sort was held to constitute reversible error. Jones attacked and stabbed his prison cellmate; his......
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