People v. Stone

46 Cal. 4th 131, 92 Cal. Rptr. 3d 362, 205 P.3d 272 (2009)



A person who intends to kill is guilty of the murder of everyone actually killed, whether or not the person intended to kill each one. A person maliciously intending to kill is guilty of the murder of all persons actually killed. But that situation is different concerning attempted murder. The crime of attempt sanctions what the person intended to do but did not accomplish, not unintended and unaccomplished potential consequences. Someone who does not intend to kill a person is not guilty of that person's attempted murder even if the crime would have been murder if the person were killed. To be guilty of attempted murder, the defendant must intend to kill the alleged victim, not someone else. The defendant's mental state must be examined as to each alleged attempted murder victim. Someone who intends to kill only one person and attempts unsuccessfully to do so, is guilty of the attempted murder of the intended victim, but not of others. However, if a person targets one particular person, under some facts a jury can find the person also, concurrently, intended to kill - and thus was guilty of the attempted murder of - other, nontargeted, persons.


The defendant was charged with and convicted of a single count of attempted murder for firing a single shot at a group of 10 people. On appeal, the Court of Appeal reversed the attempted murder conviction, concluding that the trial court prejudicially misinstructed the jury on the intent requirement of attempted murder. The Court of Appeal also found insufficient evidence to support the attempted murder conviction.


Was there sufficient evidence to support an attempted murder charge?




The Court held that a person who shoots into a group of people, intending to kill one of the group, but not knowing or caring which one, can be convicted of attempted murder. The mental state required for attempted murder is the intent to kill a human being, not a particular human being. The trial court erred in giving a modified version of a kill zone instruction. The kill zone theory did not fit the charge or facts of this case. Defendant was not charged with 10 attempted murders, one for each member of the group at which he shot. He was charged only with the attempted murder of a named victim and not with the attempted murder of others in the group at which he fired his gun. The information specifically alleged that defendant intended to kill a particular victim. This allegation was problematic given that the prosecution ultimately could not prove that defendant targeted a specific person. In a case like this, the information did not necessarily have to name a specific victim. For example, it would have been sufficient to allege that defendant committed attempted murder in that he attempted to murder a member of a group of persons who were gathered together. Such a charge would have provided defendant adequate notice of the offense of which he was accused.

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