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Law School Case Brief

People v. Johnson - 5 Cal. App. 4th 552, 7 Cal. Rptr. 2d 23 (1992)

Rule:

Whether a defendant has reached a place of temporary safety is a question of fact for the jury. Case law does not specifically address whether this determination is to be based on the defendant's subjective belief or whether objective criteria are also relevant to this inquiry. The court is satisfied that an objective standard is to be applied. The black letter law states the rule in terms of whether the defendant actually reaches a place of temporary safety, rather than whether the defendant believes that he or she reaches such a safe location.

Facts:

Defendant committed a robbery and escaped by car. A car chase ensued and defendant lost control of his car, hit another car, and killed the driver. Defendant subsequently captured and charged with first-degree murder with special circumstances, for which he was found guilty and convicted conviction by the Superior Court of San Mateo County (California). Defendant appealed his conviction, arguing that insufficient evidence existed to show that the murder took place in the commission of the robberies.

Issue:

Was there sufficient evidence to support the finding that the murder occurred in the commission of a robbery?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The appellate court affirmed the conviction, but granted defendant a new sentencing hearing. The court held that defendant's argument that the robbery was completed when the accident occurred was tested using an objective standard and defendant's subjective belief was only one element that was considered. Although the robbery would be legally completed when defendant reached a place of temporary safety, the court held that defendant's subjective belief as to his safety was not dispositive of the issue. Rather, the court held that the issue was a question of fact for the jury, and that an objective standard applied. Accordingly, the issue was whether defendant actually had reached a place of temporary safety, and the court held that the evidence was sufficient to permit the jury to determine that defendant had not reached a place of temporary safety. Likewise, despite the distance and lapse of time between the events, the court held that the jury could also properly determine that the robbery and homicide were parts of a continuing transaction.

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