Brief Fact Summary.
Stone (Defendant) was convicted of attempted premeditated murder after firing into a crowd without intent to kill any specific individual in that crowd.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A person who shoots into a group of people intending to kill a person, although not necessarily a particular person, is guilty of attempted murder.
After clashing with members of another gang, Defendant returned with a group and fired a single shot at the members of the other gang from the passenger window of a vehicle. Witnesses testified that Defendant aimed at the group, but not at any particular individual in the group. No one was injured and Defendant was arrested and charged with attempted premeditated murder of Joel F., one person in the group. Defendant was convicted and on appeal the California Court of Appeal reversed the conviction based upon the sufficiency of the evidence and an erroneous instruction concerning a “kill zone” provided to the jury.
Is a person who shoots into a group of people, intending to kill a person but not specifying one person in particular, guilty of attempted murder?
(Chin, J.) Yes. A person who shoots into a group of people intending to kill a person, although not necessarily a particular person, is guilty of attempted murder.The Court of Appeals found that the jury was erroneously given the “kill zone” instruction which comes from the case of People v. Bland, 28 Cal. 4th 313 (2002). In Bland, the defendant fired multiple shots into a car that held three people. The driver was killed and the two passengers injured. The defendant was found guilty of murder of the driver and attempted murder of the passengers, although the evidence showed that he only intended to kill the driver. The opinion in Bland held that a defendant who does not intend to kill a person is not guilty of attempted murder, even in situations where they would be guilty of murder if the victim died. Although the jury must find that the defendant intended to kill the alleged victim, the court recognized that a defendant may have concurrently intended to kill not only the primary target, but also others in the “kill zone.” As the Court of Appeals found, the “kill zone” instruction was not appropriate in this case because there was no primary target. This instruction might have led the jurors to believe they could convict Defendant of attempted murder if it found intent to kill someone, even if not the named victim. However, a person who intends to kill another can be guilty of attempted murder even in situations where he does not have a specific target. The jury must judge the defendant’s guilt as to each alleged victim, whether that victim was a specific target or randomly chosen. A defendant is guilty of attempted murder when he intends to kill a person, whether that person be specifically targeted or randomly picked. Reversed and returned to the Court of Appeals for further consideration based upon this opinion.
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The court found that if the evidence demonstrated that Defendant had intended to kill one particular person and concurrently intended to kill others in the “kill zone,” the given instruction would have been appropriate. Since that evidence was absent, the instruction was erroneous. The California Supreme Court remanded the case to the Court of Appeals to determine whether the erroneous jury instruction was harmless error and to evaluate the variance between the charged offense, the attempted murder of Joel F., and the evidence showing that Joel F. was not a specific target.