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Jenkins v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

March 11, 1968

Thornton A. JENKINS, Defendant Below, Appellant,
v.
The STATE of Delaware, Plaintiff Below, Appellee.

Page 147

Upon appeal from Superior Court. Affirmed.

Henry N. Herndon, Jr., of Morris, James, Hitchens & Williams, Wilmington, for defendant below, appellant.

Jay H. Conner, Deputy Atty. Gen., Wilmington, for plaintiff below appellee.

WOLCOTT, C.J., and CAREY and HERRMANN, JJ., sitting.

HERRMANN, Justice:

This is the defendant's second appeal from a conviction of murder. Upon a conviction of murder in the first degree, and the sentence of death imposed thereon, the defendant successfully appealed and obtained a new trial. See Jenkins v. State, Del.,230 A.2d 262 (1967), to which reference is especially made for the factual background of this case. Upon retrial, the defendant was convicted of murder in the second degree and sentenced to life imprisonment. The present appeal is from that conviction.

This appeal is based upon three grounds:

I.

First, the defendant contends that submission to the jury of the felony-second degree murder issue was prejudicial error

Page 148

because (1) founded, as it was, upon a burglary of which the defendant had been previously convicted, it subjected the defendant to double jeopardy; (2) the burglary did not involve circumstances foreseeably dangerous to human life; and (3) the jury charge [1] in connection with felony-murder referred to an 'attempted burglary', which is a misdemeanor and not a felony.

There is an overall answer to these contentions which, in our opinion, renders any error in connection therewith harmaless beyond a reasonable doubt: [2] During its deliberations, the jury asked for clarification of the instructions. In response, with the consent of the defendant's attorney, the Trial Court put the following two questions to the jury for special verdict, [3] to supplement the general verdict:

'Do you imply malice from the severity of the fatal attack and beating?

'Do you imply malice as a result of the conclusion that the decedent was killed during and as a result of the perpetration or attempted perpetration of the burglary in the fourth degree under circumstances in which it was reasonably foreseeable that it was dangerous to human life?'

The jury answered both questions in the affirmative. We conclude therefrom that the general verdict of 'guilty as charged' and the judgment of conviction thereon must stand, on the basis of the affirmative answer to the first question alone. As a result of that conclusion, any of the asserted errors, relative to the felony-murder aspect of the case, must be deemed not sufficiently prejudicial to constitute reversible error.

Nonetheless, for the enhancement of our discussion of the felony-murder rule in Jenkins v. State, supra, we make brief comment as to the specific errors here asserted.

1) There is no merit in the double jeopardy argument. The felony-murder basis of prosecution for murder may not be ruled out of a case by the fact that the felony component of the doctrine was the subject of an earlier prosecution and conviction. [4]

In the instant case, the defendant was charged, tried, and convicted for murder--not burglary. [5] Burglary is not a

Page 149

lesser offense included in the greater crime of murder, as the defendant argues. Wholly inapposite are the authorities cited by the defendant regarding the double jeopardy bar of a lesser-included offense in a subsequent prosecution for a greater crime.

2) The question of whether the burglary involved circumstances foreseeably dangerous to human life was properly left to the jury. There was sufficient evidence to warrant making this a jury question, and the Trial Court was correct in so doing. See 230 A.2d 262, 269.

3) It was not error, as the defendant claims, to refer in the jury charge to the 'attempted perpetration' of the burglary, and the 'attempted burglary', as a possible basis for the operation of the felony-murder rule. In Jenkins, we stated that the felony-second degree murder rule shall apply to 'homicides proximately caused by the perpetration or attempted perpetration of felonies which are, by nature or circumstances, foreseeably dangerous to human life.' The Trial Judge adopted this language in the charge. That the felony-murder rule is applicable to the attempted perpetration of the felony, as well as to the actual perpetration, is beyond question. E.g., 2 Burdick, Law of Crime, § 454, p. 176; 1 Wharton's Criminal Law and Procedure, § 251, p. 541. It is the felonious design imputed from the felony to the homicide that constitutes murder under the rule; and that felonious intention is deemed to have existed, and is thus imputed, whether the felony was actually perpetrated, or was interrupted at the 'attempt' stage. , 26 Am.Jur. 'Homicide' §§ 188, 192. Therefore, although an attempt to commit a felony is a common law misdemeanor (1 Burdick, Law of Crime, Ch. X), a ...


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