CHUUK STATE SUPREME COURT TRIAL DIVISION

Cite as Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 483 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008)

[15 FSM Intrm. 483]

CHUUK STATE,

Plaintiff,

vs.

JOSEPH WILLIAM and DEO WILLIAM,

Defendants.

CRIMINAL CASE NO. 061-2003

ORDER DENYING MOTIONS FOR ACQUITTAL

Camillo Noket

Chief Justice

Hearing:  December 19, 2007

Decided:  January 25, 2008

APPEARANCES:

For the Plaintiff:         Ken Uehara

                                  Assistant Attorney General

                                  Office of the Chuuk Attorney General

                                  P.O. Box 1050

                                  Weno, Chuuk FM 96942
 

For the Defendant:    Steven Y. George

 (Joseph William)      Office of the Public Defender

                                  P.O. Box 245

                                  Tofol, Kosrae FM 96944
 

For the Defendant:   Gideon Doone

  (Deo William)          P.O. Box 882

                                  Weno, Chuuk FM 96942
 

[15 FSM Intrm 484]

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HEADNOTES

Criminal Law and Procedure ) Standard of Proof

      As a matter of due process, to sustain a conviction, the government must prove each element of an offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt. To sustain a charge against a Rule 29 motion for acquittal, however, it is not a requirement that the evidence compel a guilty verdict "beyond a reasonable doubt," only that it is adequate and sufficient to support a "prima facie" case. Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 483, 487 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008).

Criminal Law and Procedure ) Standard of Proof

      In ruling on a Rule 29 motion, the proper inquiry is not whether the government has proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt, but whether there has been evidence presented that could persuade a reasonable person, viewing the evidence and reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the prosecution, of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 483, 487 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008).

Criminal Law and Procedure ) Homicide; Criminal Law and Procedure ) Self-Defense

      A person commits murder if he unlawfully causes the death of another human being intentionally or knowingly, or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life. This can be broken down into five separate elements which the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt: 1)  the defendant, 2)  unlawfully caused, 3)  the death, 4)  of another human being, 5)  either intentionally or knowingly, or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life. With respect to the second element, whether a defendantís "unlawfully caused" the victimís death, the defendantís acts in self-defense render their actions lawful or excusable. Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 483, 487 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008).

Criminal Law and Procedure ) Homicide; Criminal Law and Procedure ) Self-Defense

      Self-defense is not an affirmative defense and the burden of proof remains with the prosecution to prove each element of the offense when self-defense is asserted. Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 483, 488 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008).

Criminal Law and Procedure ) Self-Defense

      The general rule is that a person can use no more force than is necessary to protect himself, his family, and his home and property from an intruder and to expel the intruder. The force employed in self-defense must therefore be reasonable in the light of the amount, degree and kind of force being used by the aggressor. A claim of self-defense is meritless when there is no imminent threat of bodily harm. Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 483, 488 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008).

Criminal Law and Procedure ) Self-Defense

      In assessing a claim of self-defense involving use of a dangerous weapon, the court must also consider the extent to which use of a dangerous weapon is justified by circumstances. There is no automatic prohibition against use of a dangerous weapon to protect oneself in self-defense, even against an aggressor without a weapon, so long as the weapon is not used in deadly fashion and the actual force employed is not more than would be reasonably necessary for purposes of protection. Such use, however, substantially increases the likelihood that the harm to an aggressor will be greater than it would have otherwise been without a dangerous weapon, which in turn increases the likelihood that the court will find the force used was unreasonably severe. Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 483, 488 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008).

[15 FSM Intrm 485]

Criminal Law and Procedure ) Aggravated Assault

      A dangerous weapon is any object that, as used or attempted to be used, can endanger life or inflict great bodily harm. Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 483, 488 n.1 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008).

Criminal Law and Procedure ) Homicide; Criminal Law and Procedure ) Self-Defense

      If the court finds that the defendantsí acts were in self-defense, but they employed unreasonable force, there is no compulsory reduction of a murder charge to manslaughter. Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 483, 488 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008).

Criminal Law and Procedure ) Homicide; Criminal Law and Procedure ) Self-Defense; Criminal Law and Procedure ) Standard of Proof

      When a reasonable fact finder could find beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants employed unreasonable force against the victim when he was no longer a threat to them, evidenced by their use of dangerous weapons against the victim when he no longer had a machete and their simultaneous beating of him when he was no longer offering resistance, the government has presented sufficient evidence that the victimís killing was unlawful. Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 483, 488 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008).

Criminal Law and Procedure ) Homicide

      If the court finds that the defendants killed the victim while in a state of extreme mental or emotional disturbance for which there is a reasonable explanation or excuse, the court will find them guilty of, at most, manslaughter. Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 483, 489 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008).

Criminal Law and Procedure ) Homicide

      A finding that the victim clearly was the aggressor and that one defendantís intervention to aid his brother adds additional weight to his claim of provocation, is sufficient to suggest that the defendants may have been acting under the influence of mental or emotional disturbance. Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 483, 489 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008).

Criminal Law and Procedure ) Homicide

      Unless the court finds that extreme emotional or mental disturbance existed at the time of the killing, there is no basis for reducing the murder charge to manslaughter. Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 483, 489 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008).

Criminal Law and Procedure

      When FSM courts have not yet addressed an issue, the court may look to decisions from jurisdictions outside the FSM for authority, as well as secondary authorities, all the while keeping in mind the suitability for the FSM of any given principle. Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 483, 489 n.2 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008).

Criminal Law and Procedure ) Homicide

      The reasonableness of a defendantís response to a provocation shall be determined from the viewpoint of a person in the defendantís situation under the circumstances as he believes them to be. The passion aroused from the provocation need not be anger or rage, but can be any violent, intense, high-wrought, or enthusiastic emotion other than revenge. However, if sufficient time has elapsed between the provocation and fatal blow for passion to subside and reason return, the killing is not voluntary manslaughter. Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 483, 489-90 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008).

Criminal Law and Procedure ) Homicide

      If from any circumstances whatever, it appears that the defendant reflected, deliberated, or cooled any time before the fatal stroke was given, or if there was enough time or opportunity for a

[15 FSM Intrm 486]

reasonable person to cool, the killing will amount to murder, being attributable to malice and revenge, and not to mental disturbance. Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 483, 490 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008).

Criminal Law and Procedure ) Homicide; Criminal Law and Procedure ) Standard of Proof

      If a reasonable fact finder could find beyond a reasonable doubt that during the extended period between the victimís initial assault and the defendantsí finally relenting from their beating of him, during which the defendants had ample time to observe that the victim was suppliant, injured and helpless, then either the defendants had, in fact, regained their senses or reasonable persons in the defendantsí situation would have cooled off and regained their senses. Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 483, 490 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008).

Criminal Law and Procedure ) Homicide

      For the purposes of motions for acquittal, the government has presented sufficient evidence of the requisite intent to satisfy that element of the murder charges when the defendantsí use of dangerous weapons to repeatedly beat the victim alone creates a strong inference of the requisite intent and when there is evidence sufficient to support the specific intent requirement for murder based on the prolonged duration of the beating and other attendant circumstances arising after the victimís initial assault. Chuuk v. William, 15 FSM Intrm. 483, 490 (Chk. S. Ct. Tr. 2008).

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COURTíS OPINION

CAMILLO NOKET, Chief Justice:

       On December 19, 2007, at the close of the Prosecutorís case-in-chief, counsel Gideon Doone, on behalf of Deo William, orally raised and argued his motion for acquittal and the Government orally opposed it. On January 10, 2008, counsel Steve Y. George, on behalf of defendant Joseph William, filed his motion for acquittal. On January 18, 2008, the Government filed its opposition to Joseph Williamís motion, and Deo William filed his concurring comments on Joseph Williamís motion.

I.  Facts

      Evidence adduced at trial, if found credible by the court and viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution, establishes that on the morning of November 27, 2003, defendants Joseph and Deo William were sitting on a rock under an apple tree on the island of Fefan with a few other people when Kulou Harper approached them. Harper cursed at them and advanced toward Joseph William swinging a machete. Joseph William deflected the assault with a shovel, after which Harper tackled him and the two scuffled on the ground.

       While Joseph William and Harper were scuffling, Deo William removed the machete from Harper and gave it to a bystander. Deo William joined in the scuffle. Deo William pulled Harper by his legs from Joseph William and the two brothers pinned Harper to the ground. Deo William requested that a bystander give him a rock lying nearby and was given a "fist sized" rock. Joseph William reached for an empty coconut husk. Then Joseph William beat Harper in the face and head with the coconut husk while Deo William simultaneously beat his lower extremities, each with their respective implements.

      During the period when defendants had Harper pinned to the ground and were beating him, Harper begged forgiveness. Finally, Harper lay motionless and unresponsive, but the brothersí continued their beating. The various accounts of Harperís assault, the ensuing scuffle and beating

[15 FSM Intrm 487]

established a timeframe for the incident ranging anywhere between a few minutes to twenty minutes to over an hour. One witness testified that when he saw that Harper was injured and helpless, he asked the William brothers to stop beating him. When they did not stop, he left the scene. Defendants did not stop beating Harper until another witness arriving on the scene and seeing Harperís condition, commanded them to stop.

      Only then did they stop. When they rose from Harper, they tossed their implements on him, and left the scene without waiting to see how badly he was injured. Others responding to the scene tended to Harper who was, for a brief period, conscious and audible, but when he tried to rise from the ground he vomited blood and collapsed unconscious. Harper was dead on arrival at the Chuuk State Hospital, where autopsy results revealed the cause of death to be severe hemorrhaging in the brain from blows by a blunt instrument.

II.  Law

A. Standard of Proof

      As a matter of due process, to sustain a conviction, the Government must prove each element of an offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt. Ludwig v FSM, 2 FSM Intrm. 27, 35 (App. 1985). To sustain a charge against a Rule 29 motion for acquittal, however, it is not a requirement that the evidence compel a guilty verdict "beyond a reasonable doubt," only that it is adequate and sufficient to support a "prima facie" case. Andohn v. FSM, 1 FSM Intrm. 433, 438-39 (App. 1984). In this context, the term "prima facie" denotes evidence which, if believed, would be sufficient to establish defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. at 439 (citing 8A J. Moore, Mooreís Federal Practice, ∂ 29.07 (2d ed. 1981)). In ruling on a Rule 29 motion, the proper inquiry, therefore, is not whether the government has proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt, but whether there has been evidence presented that could persuade a reasonable person, viewing the evidence and reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the prosecution, of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. FSM v. Fritz, 13 FSM Intrm. 85, 86 (Chk. 2004); Andohn,1 FSM Intrm. at 438, 442.

B. The Elements of Murder and Issues

      A person commits murder if he unlawfully causes the death of another human being intentionally or knowingly, or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life. Chk. S.L. No. 6-66, ß 415. Section 415 can be broken down into five separate elements. The Government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

1.  the defendant

2.  unlawfully caused

3.  the death

4.  of another human being

5.  either intentionally or knowingly, or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.

      In their motions, defendants raise issues with respect to the second and fifth elements.

      With respect to the second element, whether defendantsí "unlawfully caused" Harperís death, defendants argue that their acts were in self-defense, rendering their actions lawful or excusable. See Ronald A. Anderson, 1 Whartonís Criminal Law ß 187, at 211 (12th ed. 1957) (An "unlawful" death is one that is not justifiable or excusable; a valid claim of self-defense may excuse a homicide).

[15 FSM Intrm 488]

      Defendants also assert that the Government cannot prove the fifth element because their actions resulted from extreme emotional or mental disturbance provoked by Harperís assault. They argue, therefore, that they did not have the requisite state of mind to sustain a murder charge, and they should be guilty of, at most, voluntary manslaughter.

C. Self-Defense

       First, the court will consider the extent to which a claim of self-defense provides an excuse to defendantsí actions. Self-defense is not an affirmative defense and the burden of proof remains with the prosecution to prove each element of the offense when self-defense is asserted. Engichy v. FSM, 1 FSM Intrm. 532, 554 (App. 1984); see also Harrison v. State, 699 N.E.2d 645 (Ind. 1998) (once defendant has created reasonable doubt in homicide case by raising self-defense claim, burden shifts to State to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that defendantís use of deadly force was not justified). The general rule is that a person can use no more force than is necessary to protect himself, his family, and his home and property from an intruder and to expel the intruder. FSM v. Ruben, 1 FSM Instr. 34, 37 (Truk 1981); Tosie v. FSM, 5 FSM Intrm. 175, 177-78 (App. 1991). The force employed in self-defense must therefore be reasonable in the light of the amount, degree and kind of force being used by the aggressor. Davis v. Kutta, 7 FSM Intrm. 536, 544-45 (Chk. 1996); Alik v. Kosrae, 6 FSM Intrm. 469, 473 (App. 1994); Loch v. FSM, 1 FSM Intrm. 566 (App. 1984). A claim of self-defense is meritless when there is no imminent threat of bodily harm. Alik, 6 FSM Intrm. at 472.

       In assessing a claim of self-defense involving use of a dangerous weapon, the court must also consider the extent to which use of a dangerous weapon is justified by circumstances. There is no automatic prohibition against use of a dangerous weapon to protect oneself in self-defense, even against an aggressor without a weapon, so long as the weapon is not used in deadly fashion and the actual force employed is not more than would be reasonably necessary for purposes of protection. Ruben, 1 FSM Intrm. at 38. Such use, however, substantially increases the likelihood that the harm to an aggressor will be greater than it would have otherwise been without a dangerous weapon, which in turn increases the likelihood that the court will find the force used was unreasonably severe. Id. at 38-39.

       If the court finds that defendantsí acts were in self-defense, but they employed unreasonable force, there is no compulsory reduction of a murder charge to manslaughter. Bernardo v. FSM, 4 FSM Intrm. 310, 315 (App. 1990); see also People v. Whitfield, 66 Cal. Rptr. 438 (Cal. Ct. App. 1968) (where a homicide is committed in mutual combat, in order to reduce the offense from murder to manslaughter, it must appear that the contest was waged on equal terms, and no undue advantage was taken by a defendant).

      In this case, the court concludes that a reasonable fact finder could find beyond a reasonable doubt that defendants employed unreasonable force against Harper when he was no longer a threat to them, evidenced by their use of dangerous weapons against Harper when he no longer had the machete and their simultaneous beating of him when he was no longer offering resistance. The court therefore finds that the Government has presented sufficient evidence that Harperís killing was unlawful.

[15 FSM Intrm 489]

D. Mental or Emotional Disturbance

      Even though, when viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution, a partial or complete excuse on the basis of self-defense is unsupported by the facts in this case, if the court finds that defendants killed Harper while in a state of extreme mental or emotional disturbance for which there is a reasonable explanation or excuse, the court will find them guilty of, at most, manslaughter. Chk. S.L. No. 6-66, ß 416; Bernardo, 4 FSM Intrm. at 315; Runmar v. FSM, 3 FSM Intrm. 308 (App. 1988).

      In Bernardo v. FSM, 4 FSM Intrm. 310 (App. 1990), the court addressed whether provocation could provide a basis for a finding of extreme mental or emotional disturbance. There the victim instigated a confrontation, scuffled with the defendant and chased him with a rock in his hand before the defendant fatally stabbed him. The court held that the evidence adduced of self-defense was not so mitigating a factor as to automatically compel the reduction of a charge from murder to manslaughter. Bernardo, 4 FSM Intrm. at 315. Finding error in the trial courtís failure to specifically consider the lesser charge of manslaughter, however, the court concluded that the trial courtís finding that the victim was the aggressor and that he chased the defendant with a rock in his hand sufficient to suggest that the defendant may have been acting under the influence of mental or emotional disturbance when he stabbed him. Id.

       In this case, like Bernardo, the victim clearly was the aggressor. The circumstance of Deo Williamís intervention to aid his brother adds additional weight to his claim of provocation. See 40 Am. Jur. 2d Homicide ß 62 (1968) (it is generally agreed that the assaulting of a relative is sufficient provocation); Collins v. United States, 150 U.S. 62, 14 S. Ct. 9, 37 L. Ed. 998 (1893) (finding sufficient provocation to mitigate conviction from murder to manslaughter when defendant shot a man in the act of assaulting his young relative).

      The court finds that it is beyond dispute that Harper provoked the defendants. The inquiry, however, does not end there.

E. Cooling Off

       Unless the court finds that extreme emotional or mental disturbance existed at the time of the killing, there is no basis for reducing the murder charge to manslaughter. See 40 Am. Jur. 2d Homicide ß 62 (1968). The factual issue of whether there was a period of "cooling off," as it is commonly termed, after the provocation but before the killing, was not specifically addressed in Bernardo or Runmar and the court is unaware of any other FSM case law specifically addressing the issue.

      Most U.S. courts agree that there must not only be a sufficient cause of provocation, but an actual state of mental or emotional disturbance, without time to cool, placing the accused beyond the control of reason, and suddenly impelling him to the deed. See 40 Am. Jur. 2d Homicide ß 56 (1968); see also, e.g., State v Kornahrens, 350 S.E.2d 180 (S.C. 1986) (voluntary manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being in sudden heat of passion upon sufficient legal provocation; heat of passion alone will not suffice to reduce murder to voluntary manslaughter), cert. denied, 480 U.S. 940 (1987).

      The reasonableness of defendantís response to a provocation shall be determined from the viewpoint of a person in the defendantís situation under the circumstances as he believes them to be.

[15 FSM Intrm 490]

Chk. S.L. No. 6-66, ß 416. The passion aroused from the provocation need not be anger or rage, but can be any violent, intense, high-wrought, or enthusiastic emotion other than revenge. However, if sufficient time has elapsed between the provocation and fatal blow for passion to subside and reason return, the killing is not voluntary manslaughter. People v. Breverman, 960 P.2d 1094 (Cal. 1998). If from any circumstances whatever, it appears that the defendant reflected, deliberated, or cooled any time before the fatal stroke was given, or if there was enough time or opportunity for a reasonable person to cool, the killing will amount to murder, being attributable to malice and revenge, and not to mental disturbance. 1 Whartonís Criminal Law, ß 286; see also 40 Am. Jur. 2d Homicide ß 68 (1968); see also, e.g., Commonwealth v. Anderson, 501 N.E.2d 515 (Mass. 1986) (if intentional killing occurs in circumstances likely to produce in an ordinary person a state of passion or anger that would eclipse the capacity for reflection or restraint, there is no malice and only voluntary manslaughter verdict, not murder verdict, is permissible); State v. Warren, 592 N.W.2d 440 (Minn. 1999) (To establish that he acted in heat of passion, murder defendant would have to show that he was provoked by such words or acts of another as would provoke a person of ordinary self-control under like circumstances.).

      In this case, the court concludes that a reasonable fact finder could find beyond a reasonable doubt that during the extended period between Harperís initial assault and defendantsí finally relenting from their beating of him, during which, by all accounts, defendants had ample time to observe that Harper was suppliant, injured and helpless, either that defendants had, in fact, regained their senses or that reasonable persons in defendantsí situation would have cooled off and regained their senses.

F. Intentionally, Knowingly, or Recklessly under Circumstances Manifesting Extreme Indifference to the Value of Human Life

      For the purposes of the motions for acquittal at least, the court finds that the Government has presented sufficient evidence of the requisite intent to satisfy the fifth element of the murder charges. Defendantsí use of dangerous weapons to repeatedly beat Harper alone creates a strong inference of the requisite intent. See e.g., Loch v. FSM, 1 FSM Intrm. 566, 576 (App. 1984) (on appeal from murder conviction, it was not unreasonable for a trial court to conclude that a police officer, claiming to effect an arrest, who hit a person four times with a mangrove coconut husker and killed him was trying to kill him); see also Palik v. Kosrae, 8 FSM Intrm. 509, 515-16 (App. 1998) (malice aforethought required for a second-degree murder conviction may correctly be inferred from the deliberate use of dangerous or deadly weapons.). The court otherwise finds the evidence sufficient to support the specific intent requirement for murder based on the prolonged duration of the beating and other attendant circumstances arising after Harperís initial assault.

III.  Conclusion

      The court finds sufficient evidence on the record to support a prima facie case of murder against each of the defendants. Therefore, the court denies the defendantsí respective motions for acquittal.

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Footnotes:

1. A dangerous weapon is any object that, as used or attempted to be used, can endanger life or inflict great bodily harm. Palik v. Kosrae, 8 FSM Intrm. 509, 513 (App. 1998) (kicking some one with shoes on constitutes assault with a dangerous weapon) (citing Laion v. FSM, 1 FSM Intrm. 503, 510 (App. 1984) (giving as examples wine bottles, shoes, a rake, a thrown club, a chair, and a chair leg)).

2.  When FSM courts have not yet addressed an issue, the court may look to decisions from jurisdictions outside the FSM for authority, as well as secondary authorities, all the while keeping in mind the suitability for the FSM of any given principle. Senda v. Semes, 8 FSM Intrm. 484, 495 (Pon. 1998).

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