Friday, November 21, 2014
S.C. Upholds Conviction in Killing of Gang Members
Justices Apply ‘Natural and Probable Consequences’ Rule
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A defendant was properly convicted of murdering two members of his own gang, even though he did not personally kill them or desire to see them dead, the California Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
The justices unanimously upheld the conviction of Vince Smith for the murders of Vincent McCarthy, a friend of the defendant, and Demetrius Hunt. All were members of the Gateway Posse Crips, a Palm Springs-area gang.
Testimony indicated that Gateway Posse members were involved in a Feb. 7, 2006 melee, also involving the YAH Squad and the Pueblo Bishop Bloods. Several guns were pointed, and Hunt and McCarthy were hit.
A witness testified he saw Smith with a gun, but no one said he fired one. A friend of Smith said Smith was not the shooter, and that Gateway Posse did not attack anyone.
The prosecution theorized that DeShawn Littleton, a member of Pueblo Bishop who also had ties to YAH, fired the fatal shots. A number of members of the gangs were charged with various crimes, including murder.
The trial judge instructed jurors on the natural and probable consequences doctrine, as applied to both murder and manslaughter. He explained that “[u]nder some specific circumstances, if the evidence establishes aiding and abetting of one crime, a person may also be found guilty of other crimes that occur during the commission of the first crime.”
More specifically, he told jurors to consider whether any of those involved had committed disturbing the peace or assault or battery, whether anyone participating in those crimes had committed murder or voluntary manslaughter, and whether “a reasonable person in the defendant’s position would have known that the commission of the murder or voluntary manslaughter was a natural and probable consequence of the commission of the disturbing the peace or assault or battery.”
“Natural and probable consequence” was defined as “one that a reasonable person would know is likely to happen if nothing unusual intervenes,” based on the entire circumstances.
Jurors found the defendant guilty of the second degree murders of McCarthy and Hunt and of one count of active participation in a criminal street gang, and the Court of Appeal affirmed.
Justice Ming Chin, writing for the high court, said the lower courts were correct.
He rejected the defense argument that uncertainty as to who killed the victims precluded a determination that the defendant aided and abetted the killings.
“[A]ny such uncertainty did not matter as long as the jury unanimously agreed, as to each killing, that, whoever the actual gunman was, that gunman both committed murder, i.e., killed a human being with malice…and was a principal in the target crimes,” of disturbing the peace or assault or battery, Chin wrote. “If the jury made those findings and also found that defendant aided and abetted the commission of the target crimes, and the murders were a natural and probable consequence of the target crimes, it could convict defendant of the murders despite uncertainty as to who exactly the killer was.”
“Applying these rules here, the jury could readily have found as to each murder charge that the actual killer, whether he was Littleton…or some other member of Pueblo Bishop, committed a discrete murder, i.e., that he killed McCarthy as to one count and Hunt as to another, and that he acted with malice regarding each killing.”
The case is People v. Smith, 14 S.O.S. 5204.
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