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State v. Guthrie - 194 W. Va. 657, 461 S.E.2d 163 (1995)


Premeditation supporting a first degree murder conviction means prior consideration, there is no fixed time for its duration, and varies according to the circumstances, requiring only that it is of sufficient duration for the accused to be fully conscious of his intent.


The defendant removed a knife from his pocket and stabbed his co-worker in the neck and killed him. Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. During the trial, the Judge instructed the jury "...that to constitute a willful, deliberate and premeditated killing, it is not necessary that the intention to kill should exist for any particular length of time prior to the actual killing; it is only necessary that such intention should have come into existence for the first time at the time of such killing, or at any time previously."


Was the jury instruction proper?




The Court held that to allow the State to prove premeditation and deliberation by only showing that the intention came "into existence for the first time at the time of such killing" completely eliminates the distinction between the two degrees of murder. Hence, we feel compelled in this case to attempt to make the dichotomy meaningful by making some modifications to our homicide common law. Premeditation and deliberation should be defined in a more careful, but still general way to give juries both guidance and reasonable discretion. Although premeditation and deliberation are not measured by any particular period of time, there must be some period between the formation of the intent to kill and the actual killing, which indicates the killing is by prior calculation and design. This means there must be an opportunity for some reflection on the intention to kill after it is formed.

The proper jury instruction should be as follows: "'The jury is instructed that murder in the first degree consists of an intentional, deliberate and premeditated killing which means that the killing is done after a period of time for prior consideration. The duration of that period cannot be arbitrarily fixed. The time in which to form a deliberate and premeditated design varies as the minds and temperaments of people differ, and according to the circumstances in which they may be placed. Any interval of time between the forming of the intent to kill and the execution of that intent, which is of sufficient duration for the accused to be fully conscious of what he intended, is sufficient to support a conviction for first degree murder.'"

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