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Law School Case Brief

People v. Bowen - 10 Mich. App. 1, 158 N.W.2d 794 (1968)

Rule:

If the acts of the accused, taken by themselves, are unambiguous, and cannot, in reason, be regarded as pointing to any other end than the commission of the specific crime in question, then they constitute a sufficient actus reus. In other words, his acts must be unequivocally referable to the commission of the specific crime. If there is only one reasonable answer, then the accused has done what amounts to an attempt to attain that end. If there is more than one reasonably possible answer, then the accused has not yet done enough.

Facts:

Defendants, Sherrell Bowen and William T. Rouse, and two female companions were admitted to the home of one Matilda Gatzmeyer, an 80-year-old woman. Bowen had been to the Gatzmeyer home on a number of prior occasions, ostensibly as a handyman, the same reason he gave Miss Gatzmeyer for appearing that night. Suspecting burglary, a neighbor summoned police. The police found rooms in disarray and found Defendants with the victim's jewelry nearby. The neighbor testified she found a necklace on the staircase near where Defendant Bowen had been standing when he was first sighted by the police. When the neighbor's discovery was called to the attention of one of the police officers, he and Miss Gatzmeyer went to the staircase and found the necklace in that location. Defendants were charged with and convicted of attempted larceny. Defendants appealed the conviction.

Issue:

Were Defendants properly convicted of Larceny?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The appellate court determined that the trial court had improperly instructed the jury by omitting the overt act element and charging that defendants could be found guilty if the jury determined they entered the home intending to commit larceny. The mere entry of the home was not a sufficient overt act in this instance because the victim herself admitted them and defendants had been rightfully in the house on prior occasions to perform repair work. Because the charge omitted a legally essential element, it was erroneous and misleading and thus reversible error. The Court reversed the convictions of the trial court.

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