Law School Case Brief
United States v. Schmidt - 626 F.2d 616 (8th Cir. 1980)
The verdict of the jury must be sustained if there is substantial evidence in the record to support it, taking the view of the evidence most favorable to the government.
At about midnight on June 30-July 1, 1979, Mark Von Heeder was driving his car eastward on U.S. Highway 18 out of Mission, South Dakota, within the confines of the Rosebud Indian Reservation. He was carrying one passenger. As Von Heeder approached the Antelope Housing Community, less than a mile east of Mission, a car driven by defendant Clarence Frederick Schmidt, carrying four passengers, crossed the highway in front of him, proceeding southward out of the north turnoff to the Antelope Community. Von Heeder's car hit Schmidt's car in its right rear quarter panel, turned over several times, and came to rest on its side off the southeast corner of the intersection. Schmidt's car veered into a field on the southwest side of the highway. Von Heeder died at the scene of the accident, apparently from a broken neck. There were no other fatalities. Schmidt, a Native American, was charged by grand jury indictment with one count of involuntary manslaughter in violation of 18 U.S.C.S §§ 1153 and 1112. Schmidt pleaded not guilty. After trial in federal district court, the jury returned a verdict of guilty. The district court thereafter entered judgment of conviction. Schmidt appealed, arguing that the evidence proved his simple negligence at most, but not the gross negligence required for conviction of involuntary manslaughter under § 1112.
Were the evidence presented sufficient to prove gross negligence required for conviction of involuntary manslaughter under § 1112?
The court affirmed the district court's judgment. The court held that Schmidt was beyond a reasonable doubt guilty of a wanton or reckless disregard for human life, and that he knew his conduct was a threat to the lives of others or had knowledge that could reasonably have enabled him to foresee the peril. The court found substantial support in the evidence for several propositions including: that Schmidt was intoxicated at the time of the accident; that the brakes on the car he was driving were not in proper working order and had indeed failed to work properly earlier in the evening while he was driving the car; that immediately before the accident Schmidt "took off fast" toward the highway from a point about 100 feet north of it; and that he proceeded across the highway without stopping at the stop sign posted for his lane of traffic.
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