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People v. Saille

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and attempted murder when he returned to a café, from which he was asked to leave, with a gun, killed a patron and shot the security guard. The court of appeals affirmed. Defendant appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    In California, evidence of voluntary intoxication may be used as a defense to reduce murder to involuntary manslaughter if the defendant sufficiently shows that the intoxication prevented him from forming the specific intent to commit murder.

    Facts.

    Saille (Defendant) had been drinking beer all day when he went to a cafe around 9:00 p.m. After a short time there, the café’s security guard, David Ballagh, asked Defendant to leave because he appeared intoxicated. Defendant left but returned an hour later and Ballagh reminded him that he could not come inside the cafe. Defendant again returned to the cafe around 11:00 p.m., and was rebuffed once again by Ballagh. As he was leaving Defendant told Ballagh, “I'm going to get a gun and kill you.” Defendant went home, retrieved a semiautomatic rifle, and returned to the cafe. As Defendant entered the cafe, Ballagh tried to grab the gun. It discharged, killing a patron named Guadalupe Borba. Defendant was eventually subdued, but both he and Ballagh had been shot during the struggle. Defendant was charged with first-degree murder of Borba and attempted murder of Ballagh. At trial, evidence showed that Defendant’s blood alcohol content (BAC) had been .19 at the time of the shooting. The trial court instructed the jury that voluntary intoxication could be considered in determining whether Defendant had the specific intent to kill. While the trial court included instructions on voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, it only did so related to the specific intent to kill. Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and attempted murder and he appealed. The court of appeals affirmed and the Supreme Court of California granted review. 

    Issue.

    Whether, in California, evidence of voluntary intoxication may be used as a defense to reduce murder to involuntary manslaughter if the defendant sufficiently shows that the intoxication prevented him from forming the specific intent to commit murder.

    Held.

    Yes. The court of appeals’ ruling is affirmed. In California, evidence of voluntary intoxication may be used as a defense to reduce murder to involuntary manslaughter if the defendant sufficiently shows that the intoxication prevented him from forming the specific intent to commit murder.

    Discussion.

    Defendant argues that the trial court’s instructions related to voluntary and involuntary manslaughter were insufficient because they did not tell the jury that voluntary intoxication, like heat of passion, could negate malice and reduce what would otherwise be murder to voluntary manslaughter. Further, Defendant claims that the trial court should have instructed the jury sua sponte that it could consider voluntary intoxication in determining whether he had premeditated the murder. The legislature may limit the mental elements included in the statutory definition of a crime and thus curtail use of mens rea defenses. If a crime requires a particular mental state, however, the legislature cannot deny a defendant the opportunity to prove he did not possess that mental state. When the legislature amended the homicide laws, it equated malice with an intent unlawfully to kill. A defendant may show he did not have an intent to unlawfully kill due to voluntary intoxication or mental disease. If a defendant is charged with murder and presents such evidence, the only supportable verdict would be involuntary manslaughter or an acquittal. Thus, the trial court here did not err in failing to instruct that voluntary intoxication could negate express malice so as to reduce murder to voluntary manslaughter. Additionally, Defendant claims that the trial court erred in failing to instruct sua sponte that the jury should consider his voluntary intoxication in determining whether he had form the specific intent, premeditation, to commit murder. As mentioned above, the trial court instructed the jury that Defendant’s voluntary intoxication related only to the question of whether Defendant had the specific intent to kill. There is no need for a sua sponte instruction. The defendant should bear the burden of requesting an instruction which relates the evidence of his intoxication to an element of a crime. This is so because the defendant’s evidence of intoxication cannot be used as a defense, but can be raised in an attempt to cast doubt on an element of the crime. Here, Defendant did not request such an instruction.


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