The doctrine of transferred intent applies when the defendant intends to kill one person but mistakenly kills another. The intent to kill the intended target is deemed to transfer to the unintended victim so that the defendant is guilty of murder.
In a prosecution of a gang member for the murder of a rival gang member whom defendant shot while the victim was in a car with two non-gang members, who were also shot but not killed, the trial court instructed the jury on the doctrine of transferred intent. The jury convicted defendant of one first degree murder and two premeditated attempted murders. The court of appeal reversed the two attempted murder convictions, finding the trial court erroneously instructed the jury on the doctrine of transferred intent. The case was elevated by petition for review to the Supreme Court of California.
May transferred intent apply to victims near an intended victim, who was the actual target of a murder, even where the intended victim was also murdered?
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeal and remanded for further proceedings. The court held that transferred intent applies even when the person kills the intended target. Intent to kill is not limited to the specific target but extends to everyone actually killed. The court also held, however, that the doctrine does not apply to an inchoate crime like attempted murder. A person who intends to kill only one individual is guilty of the attempted (or completed) murder of that one individual but not also of the attempted murder of others the person did not intend to kill. Thus, whether defendant was guilty of attempted murder of the two surviving victims depended on his mental state as to those victims and not on his mental state as to the intended victim. The court held that the trial court did not prejudicially misinstruct the jury as to these principles.