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United States v. Vaughn

decided: February 12, 1980.



Before Hunter, Weis and Garth, Circuit Judges.

Author: Weis


The question in this appeal is whether a state may place the burden of proving voluntary intoxication on an accused who invokes it as a defense to a crime requiring specific intent. We find no constitutional prohibition to such a statutory allocation of the onus probandi and affirm the denial of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by a state prisoner convicted of first degree murder.

A Delaware state court convicted the petitioner of first degree murder, first degree rape, and first degree conspiracy. He is serving sentences of life imprisonment for the murder and rape convictions and 30 years for the conspiracy count. After exhausting state remedies, he sought a writ of habeas corpus in the federal district court only with respect to the conviction for murder.*fn1 After reviewing records of the state proceedings, the court denied the petition.

In February of 1976, the petitioner, then 18 years of age, and two other youths, Robert W. Jones, Jr., the petitioner's codefendant in state court, and Carey Dale Shirk, were living on the second floor of a farmhouse in Smyrna, Delaware. Goddard and Jones had rented the rooms from a third party while the owner, a woman over 70 years of age, was away. When she returned a week after the premises had been rented, Goddard suggested to his roommates that they kill her to avoid paying rent. The three youths then went to a pool hall for about two hours. When they came back to the farmhouse, Goddard again proposed that they lure the landlady to their rooms and kill her. After instructing his roommates to hide, he went to the first floor and persuaded the woman to accompany him upstairs. After she entered the rooms, he attacked her. Shirk fled, but Jones remained in an adjoining room. Goddard then bound, raped, and strangled the woman.

Jones came into the room as Goddard finished killing his victim and assisted in disposing of her body. They placed the corpse in the trunk of the victim's car and, with Goddard at the wheel, drove to Elkton, Maryland. There, they concealed the body in a wooded area.

At trial, the petitioner testified that he had taken LSD and smoked marijuana and "angel dust" shortly before the murder. He contended that as a result he was hallucinating and never consciously intended to kill the victim. Jones and Shirk testified that to their knowledge Goddard had not used any drugs on the day of the killing, and in their opinion he was not intoxicated. Jones stated that Goddard was "pretty calm" and acted "like he knew what he was doing."

The trial judge charged the jury that voluntary intoxication was available as a defense only if it was "such as to make it impossible for (Goddard) to have the state of mind required for (the) offense ((first degree murder)). In this case, the relevant state of mind was the intent to kill the alleged victim." If the defendant was able to prove the necessary degree of intoxication by a preponderance of the evidence, then the jury was told to consider whether he was guilty of second degree murder or manslaughter.*fn2

The court also charged that to find the defendant guilty of murder in the first degree, the jury had to find two elements: (1) that the defendant caused the death of the victim, and (2) that the "defendant acted intentionally; that is, it must have been the defendant's conscious object or purpose to cause death . . . . If after considering all of the evidence, you find that the State has established beyond a reasonable doubt that either defendant acted in such a manner as to satisfy all the elements, which I have just stated, at or about the date and place stated in the indictment, you should find the defendant guilty of Murder in the First Degree."

Instructions were also given with respect to the lesser degrees of murder and manslaughter, specifying that the state had the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Near the conclusion of the charge, the judge said:

"You should, however, keep in mind that at all times it's the defendant's state of mind which is at issue here, and in order to convict the defendant, you are required to find beyond a reasonable doubt that he in fact had the intention and/or recklessness required for guilt."

The Supreme Court of Delaware affirmed Goddard's conviction over his contention that the instructions concerning the intoxication defense violated due process by relieving the state of its obligation to prove each element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. The court found that the charge met federal constitutional standards on the burden of proof articulated in Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197, 97 S. Ct. 2319, 53 L. Ed. 2d 281 (1977). Goddard v. State, 382 A.2d 238 (Del.1977). The habeas court, however, read the charge as placing the burden on the petitioner to negate intent, an essential element of first degree murder, counter to Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684, 95 S. Ct. 1881, 44 L. Ed. 2d 508 (1975). Nevertheless, the district judge refused to grant the writ, deciding that in light of the overwhelming evidence of the petitioner's guilt, the erroneous instruction was "harmless beyond a reasonable doubt."

The issue in this case is whether Delaware was constitutionally prohibited from requiring the petitioner to prove the affirmative defense of voluntary intoxication by a preponderance of the evidence. Phrased differently, once the defense of intoxication had been raised, was the prosecutor required to prove its absence? In charging the jury on intoxication, the trial judge faithfully followed the provisions of the Delaware Criminal Code, so necessarily we must pass upon their validity. Resolution of the question requires a brief review of the relevant statutes and a consideration of several leading cases on the burden of proof in criminal trials, including In ...

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