Brief Fact Summary.
After being attacked by a man with a knife, Walker (Defendant) threw a brick at the assailant and then slit his throat.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
When a defendant is in an excited and irrational state when he commits homicide, he is guilty of manslaughter, not murder.
A group of people was approached by a stranger named Stenneth, who demanded that they gamble. The group refused and Stenneth pulled a knife. Stenneth lunged at Defendant, a member of the group, several times without striking him. Stenneth then struck Defendant, lacerating him. Defendant then threw a brick at Stenneth, knocking him down. While Stenneth was down, Defendant took the knife from his hand and slit Stenneth’s throat with it. The entire confrontation lasted between five and ten minutes, with no pauses. Defendant was convicted of murder and appealed.
When a homicide occurs while the defendant is in an excited, irrational state, is the defendant guilty of manslaughter vice murder?
(Drucker, J.) Yes. When a defendant is in an excited and irrational state when he commits homicide, he is guilty of manslaughter, not murder. A killing that occurs without deliberation is missing the malice aforethought required for a murder conviction. A serious and highly provoking injury can produce the excited state necessary to reduce the appropriate finding to manslaughter. Here, Stenneth lacerated Defendant with a knife. Stenneth’s death came in the same sequence of events as this knife wound to Defendant. As a matter of law, Defendant’s killing of Stenneth was an act of manslaughter. [The court remanded the case in order for the murder conviction to be lowered to a manslaughter conviction.]
The important element of manslaughter is the lack of deliberation. While time is an important factor in making the determination, it is not definitive. A brief pause between the provoking act and the fatal one can be enough to negate a heat of passion defense. Deliberation may take only a moment.