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Law School Case Brief

Commonwealth v. Carroll - 412 Pa. 525, 194 A.2d 911 (1963)

Rule:

Malice express or implied is the hallmark, the criterion, and absolutely essential ingredient of murder. Malice in its legal sense exists not only where there is a particular ill will, but also whenever there is a wickedness of disposition, hardness of heart, wanton conduct, cruelty, recklessness of consequences and a mind regardless of social duty. Legal malice may be inferred and found from the attending circumstances. Malice is present if the defendant had an intent to do the deceased serious bodily harm.

Facts:

Defendant Donald D. Carroll, Jr., pleaded guilty generally to an indictment charging him with the murder of his wife. After a non-jury trial in Pennsylvania state court, the trial court found him guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment. Defendant's own statement after his arrest detailed the final moments before the crime: "We went into the bedroom a little before 3 o'clock on Wednesday morning where we continued to argue in short bursts. Generally she laid with her back to me facing the wall in bed and would just talk over her shoulder to me. I became angry and more angry especially what she was saying about my kids and myself, and sometime between 3 and 4 o'clock in the morning I remembered the gun on the window sill over my head. I think she had dozed off. I reached up and grabbed the pistol and brought it down and shot her twice in the back of the head." Defendant filed motions for a new trial and in arrest of judgment, which were denied. Defendant appealed his conviction for first degree murder arguing that it should have only been second degree murder.

Issue:

Was the conviction for first degree murder proper?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the trial court's judgment. The evidence favorable to the Commonwealth was sufficient to prove first degree murder even if all of defendant's statements and testimony were believed. The short period of time in which defendant allegedly formed the intent to kill his wife did not bar a finding of premeditation. No length of time was a prerequisite for such a finding, which was a fact to be determined from all the circumstances in evidence. The time and place of the crime, the difficulty of removing the body, and the lack of an escape did not negate a finding of premeditation. The judge was not required to believe a psychiatrist's testimony as to defendant's state of mind at the time of the crime. Such an opinion was entitled to very little weight, especially when defendant's own actions and testimony belied it. It was the trial court's task, not the psychiatrist's, to determine defendant's state of mind and his criminal responsibility.

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