Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
When a particular aiding and abetting case triggers application of the "natural and probable consequences" doctrine, the trier of fact must find that the defendant, acting with (1) knowledge of the unlawful purpose of the perpetrator; and (2) the intent or purpose of committing, encouraging, or facilitating the commission of a predicate or target offense; (3) by act or advice aids, promotes, encourages or instigates the commission of the target crime. But the trier of fact must also find that (4) the defendant's confederate commits an offense other than the target crime; and (5) the offense the confederate commits is a natural and probable consequence of the target crime that the defendant aids and abets.
Under Cal. Penal Code § 31, defendant Jane Bray was convicted of murder as an accomplice due to her actions in aiding and abetting the commission of the offense. Defendant challenged her conviction in the intermediate appellate court, contending that the trial court's instructions erroneously permitted the jury to convict her of murder if it was the "natural and probable consequence" of any uncharged target offense that defendant aided and abetted, where the instructions did not describe or identify such an uncharged target offense. The intermediate court affirmed.
The Court held that the trial court erred by failing to give an instruction specifying for the jury the target or predicate crimes that, under the evidence, defendant might have aided and abetted and that could have led, as a natural and probable consequence, to the murder, and by failing to give an instruction describing those target crimes. Once the trial court, without a request therefor, chose to instruct the jury on the natural and probable consequences doctrine, it had a duty to issue instructions identifying and describing each potential offense supported by the evidence. However, the Court held that the trial court’s error was harmless. The prosecution's theory that defendant encouraged or assisted her confederate in the murder and was guilty of murder as an accomplice to that crime was amply supported by the evidence, and it was not reasonably probable that the trial's outcome would have been different in the absence of the trial court's instructional error. The Court also held that the trial court's inadequate instructions on the natural and probable consequences doctrine did not violate defendant's federal constitutional right to due process of law. Finally, the Court held that even if the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury on involuntary manslaughter as a lesser offense necessarily included within the crime of first-degree murder, the error was harmless. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.