Brief Fact Summary. The Defendants, Jamal Swain (Swain) and David Chatman (Defendants), were each convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and other crimes, stemming from the drive-by shooting death of a 15-year-old boy. The jury found that, under the conspiracy count, the target offense of the conspiracy was murder in the second degree. The Defendants appeal those conspiracy convictions.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A conviction of conspiracy to commit murder requires a finding of intent to kill and cannot be based upon a theory of implied malice.
Issue. Where the target offense is determined to be murder in the second degree, does conviction of conspiracy to commit murder necessarily require proof of express malice, the functional equivalent of intent to kill, or can one conspire to commit implied malice murder?
Held. In light of the jury instruction given and general verdicts returned, the court cannot determine beyond a reasonable doubt whether the jury found that the Defendants conspired with an intent to kill. As a result, the Defendants’ conspiracy convictions must be overturned.
Discussion. Conspiracy is a specific intent crime that requires intent to agree or conspire as well as a further intent to commit the target crime. In the case before the court, the alleged target offense was second degree murder, based upon a theory of implied malice. However, in this case, conspiracy to commit such an offense is impossible due to the time when culpability is assessed for conspiracy and second degree implied malice murder. For conspiracy, culpability is fixed through hindsight, at the time of the agreement. As a result, because the type of murder alleged would not be completed until the killing actually occurred, the convictions of both Swain and Chatman on the conspiracy conviction cannot stand.