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Maher v. People

    Citation. 22 Ill.10 Mich. 212 (1862)

    Brief Fact Summary. Defendant Maher was charged for assault with the intent to murder after entering a saloon and shooting Patrick Hunt, who he claimed had allegedly had an adulterous intercourse with the defendant’s wife less than an hour before the incident. Evidence offered by Defendant that his wife had had intercourse with the victim was held inadmissible and Defendant appeals.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. In determining whether the provocation is sufficient or reasonable, an objective standard should be used unless the person whose guilt is in question is shown to have some peculiar weakness of the mind that arises from something other than wickedness or cruelty.


    Facts. Defendant was charged with assault with the intent to kill and murder. Defendant entered a saloon and shot the victim, Patrick Hunt, resulting in a non-fatal wound. At trial, Defendant offered evidence to show that the victim had engaged in adulterous intercourse with Defendant’s wife less than an hour before the assault. The trial court ruled this evidence inadmissible and convicted Defendant of assault with the intent to murder. Defendant appeals on the grounds that the evidence was improperly rejected as is should have been admitted to show that Defendant was adequately provoked and should not have been found guilty of assault with the intent to murder, but only of assault and battery.

    Issue. Did the Trial Court err in rejecting Defendant’s evidence? In other words, was Defendant’s assumption that the victim had slept with his wife an hour before the assault adequate provocation to give a homicide – or in this case an attempted homicide -the character of manslaughter?

    Held. Yes. Judgment reversed and new trial granted.
    The Supreme Court of Michigan held that in determining whether the provocation is sufficient or reasonable, an objective standard should be used unless the person whose guilt is in question is shown to have some peculiar weakness of the mind that arises from something other than wickedness or cruelty. This is a decision for the fact finder.

    The evidence offered by Defendant would have been enough to allow the issue of provocation to go to the jury and it would have been up to the jury to find that the act was adequately provoked such that the charge of homicide, had the shooting resulted in death, would have been reduced to manslaughter.

    Dissent. The dissent believes that the evidence was properly excluded based on the theory that the cause of provocation must occur in the presence of Defendant and cannot be based on passions that arise out of suspicion or rumor.

    Discussion. The Court in this case allows the use of a more subjective standard in determining whether adequate provocation existed in order to mitigate a charge of murder. Compare the approach taken in Maher v. People with that taken by the Court of Appeals of Maryland in Girouard v. State, 321 Md. 532 (1991).

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