People v. Thomas

41 Cal. 2d 470, 261 P.2d 1 (1953)



Cal. Penal Code § 189 reads as follows: All murder which is perpetrated by means of poison, or lying in wait, torture, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing, or which is committed in the perpetration or attempt to perpetrate arson, rape, robbery, burglary, mayhem, or any act punishable under Cal. Penal Code § 288, is murder of the first degree; and all other kinds of murders are of the second degree. The section purports to set forth the degree of a crime previously determined to be murder. Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, with malice aforethought. Cal. Penal Code § 187.


The defendant was found guilty of murder in the first degree without recommendation. A motion for a new trial was denied and the extreme penalty was imposed. Defendant contended that because there was no proof that he had intent to kill, a properly instructed jury would have returned a verdict of murder of the second degree. Defendant contended that the instruction was improper because it permitted the jury to convict of first-degree murder where there was no evidence of a specific intent to kill.  Appeal was automatically taken to the Supreme Court of California.


Did the court misdirect the jury by giving an improper instruction on lying in wait?




The Court found that where a murder was shown to have been committed by lying in wait a showing of intent was unnecessary to fix the degree. The instruction that where the killing was by lying in wait, and the act causing death was intentional, it was murder of the first degree whether the killing was intentional or unintentional was complete and proper statement of the law. Thus, the Court held that the trial court fully and correctly instructed the jury on the distinction between first and second degree murder and on all aspects of the law applicable to the facts including intent and how it could be manifested and proved.

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