Watson v. United States

501 A.2d 791 (D.C. 1985)



First degree murder is a calculated and planned killing while second degree murder is unplanned or impulsive. The government must therefore prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused acted with premeditation and deliberation, the thought processes necessary to distinguish first degree murder from second degree. To prove premeditation, the government must show that a defendant gave thought before acting to the idea of taking a human life and reached a definite decision to kill. Deliberation is proved by demonstrating that the accused acted with consideration and reflection upon the preconceived design to kill; turning it over in the mind, giving it second thought. Although no specific amount of time is necessary to demonstrate premeditation and deliberation, the evidence must demonstrate that the accused did not kill impulsively, in the heat of passion, or in an orgy of frenzied activity.


An officer had been pursuing defendant. Defendant fled into an apartment, made a phone call, and waited for the officer to arrive. When the officer came in, defendant resisted arrest and initiated a struggle with the officer, eventually disarming him. When defendant subdued the officer in the struggle, rather than escaping, defendant retrieved the gun, stood up over the officer, and shot him as he was lying on the floor. Defendant ignored the officer's twice given admonition that it "wasn't worth it" and proceeded to shoot the officer just once. The trial court convicted defendant of first degree murder of a police officer.


Was there sufficient evidence to prove premeditation and deliberation?




The Court held that after reviewing the evidence, it determined that a reasonable jury could find that defendant acted with deliberation and premeditation when he shot and killed the officer. The court held that this evidence was sufficient circumstantial evidence from which premeditation could be inferred. The fact that defendant did not flee when he had the opportunity indicated that he chose instead to shoot the officer. Similarly, the fact that he had to retrieve the gun after the struggle and shot the officer as he was lying on the floor and defendant was standing indicated deliberate actions.

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