Involuntary manslaughter instruction denied when Defendant claims self defense in this case. He has to acknowledge some level of recklessness in his behavior.
Defendant was found guilty of murder, attempted murder, and armed robbery after he killed his girlfriend’s husband.
People v. Smith, 2014 IL App (1st) 103436 (July).
Defendant was in dating relationship with the female victim. She had broken up with Defendant when her estranged husband visited her from out of state. In the middle of the night, Defendant broke into her house and shot her husband in the chest 3 times, killing him. Defendant also shot at the female victim. The bullet hit her in the cheek and took off a part of her earlobe. She survived. Defendant then sped away in the victim’s car.
Defendant testified that the female victim tried to shoot him when he walked into the home. He said he wrestled the gun away from her. The gun “went off” during the struggle. Her naked husband ended up with three bullets in him.
It is true that very slight evidence upon a given theory of a case will support a lesser included instruction.
The difference between involuntary manslaughter and first-degree murder is the mental state accompanying the act that causes the victim’s death.
First-degree murder requires intentional or he knowing acts that create a strong probability of death or great bodily harm. 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1), (2) . Involuntary manslaughter requires reckless acts that are likely to cause death or great bodily harm to an individual. 720 ILCS 5/9-3(a).
In this case, defendant’s testimony, if believed, supported a finding that he justifiably tried to take the gun away. If believed, defendant’s testimony would have resulted in full acquittal.
The court found that the defendant’s testimony (that he struggled with the victim after the victim brandished a gun) was not evidence that he acted recklessly. Rather, Defendant testified that that he acted justifiably to defend himself in the shooting of both victims.
Further, the defendant tried to rely on the State’s witnesses to support the instruction. But here the State’s evidence did not help the Defendant because it tended to lean strongly in the other direction.
- Illinois courts consider several factors in considering whether a defendant acted recklessly:
- The brutality and duration of the offense
- The severity of the victim’s injuries
- The disparity in size between the defendant and the victim
- Whether the defendant used a weapon, and
- Whether the defendant struck multiple times.
The involuntary instruction is not warranted where the nature of the killing shows that a defendant did not act recklessly but acted intentionally.
The state’s evidence did not establish recklessness. Rather, the State’s evidence established intentional and knowing conduct.
In this case:
- All bullets fired hit a victim
- Victims were naked and defenseless
- Defendant burst into their bedroom
- Defendant broke the phone
- Defendant took the gun
- Defendant ran from police
- Defendant lied about his name
In light of this evidence, we cannot say that the trial court abused its discretion in denying defendant’s request for an involuntary manslaughter instruction.
Technically, the State’s evidence could have supported the instruction, but the trial judge’s decision here was unreasonable. A different judge could have made a different decision.
Bullet and Cartridge Cases Chain of Custody
The bullet taken from the the victim’s body and three cartridges found at the scene were admitted into evidence. The bullets and cartridge cases were not readily identifiable or unique items so a chain of custody was required.
To establish an adequate chain of custody, the State must show that the police took “reasonable protective measures” to ensure that the piece of evidence is the same item that the police recovered.
The State does not have to present testimony from every person in the chain of custody; rather, the State must simply show “that it was unlikely that the evidence has been altered.”
Once the State does so, the burden shifts to the defendant to produce evidence of “actual tampering, substitution or contamination.”
Here, there were substantial gaps in the chain of custody for the bullet. Still, chain of custody was sufficient here. The defense presented no evidence of tampering.
There is a proportionate penalties problem with the armed robbery. This robbery occured before the law that fixed the problems became effective.
The 15 year gun add-on in this case is void because the the gun add-on section was unconstitutional when defendant committed these crimes.
Case was remanded for resentencing on the armed robbery. The consecutive sentences for murder (45 years) and attempted murder (30 years) remain unchanged.