Law School Case Brief
People v. Dlugash - 51 A.D.2d 974, 380 N.Y.S.2d 315 (App. Div. 1976)
Failure to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the deceased had been alive at the time he was shot by defendant, the defendant's conviction of murder cannot stand.
A man was convicted for murder with the use of a firearm. During trial, he admits that a third party had shot the deceased on the chest, who fell to the floor. After a few minutes (the detective could not remember the precise number of minutes and testified that it could have been from two to five minutes) he went over to where the deceased was lying, took out his revolver and fired five times into the victim's head and face. The defendant told the detective that he thought the deceased was already dead when he fired the shots and that he had shot the deceased notwithstanding such belief because he feared for his life. Both of the doctors who had performed the autopsy admitted that they could not, with any degree of medical certainty, state whether the deceased had been alive at the time the latter shots were fired into his head. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of New York.
Was the State able to prove murder beyond reasonable doubt?
The Court reviewed the record and noted that the indictment had alleged that defendant, acting in concert with another person, killed his victim with a loaded firearm. The prosecution's theory was that another individual shot the victim in chest and that, shortly thereafter, defendant shot the victim in the face. Defendant confessed that he fired five shots from his own revolved into the victim but that he thought the victim was already dead when he fired the shots. The doctors who performed the autopsy admitted that they could not, with any degree of medical certainty, state whether the victim had been alive at the time defendant fired the latter shots into his head. In reversing defendant's conviction, the court concluded that under the circumstances, the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the victim had been alive at the time he was shot by defendant.
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