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Edge v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia
Feb 4, 1992
261 Ga. 865 (Ga. 1992)

Summary

holding a sequential instruction improper because it "eliminates the jury's full consideration of voluntary manslaughter relative to passion"

Summary of this case from State v. Humphrey

Opinion

S91A1127.

DECIDED FEBRUARY 4, 1992. RECONSIDERATION DENIED FEBRUARY 19, 1992.

Murder, etc. Houston Superior Court. Before Judge McConnell.

Smith, Hawkins, Almand Hollingsworth, O. Hale Almand, Jr., Leigh G. Brogdon, for appellant.

Edward D. Lukemire, District Attorney, George R. Christian, Shelley S. Howard, Dee Brophy, Assistant District Attorneys, Michael J. Bowers, Attorney General, Thomas A. Cox, Jr., for appellee.


Jesse Calvin Edge, Jr., shot and killed his estranged wife, Barbara, with a handgun. He was convicted by a jury of felony murder, voluntary manslaughter, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and to a term of years.

The homicide occurred on July 6, 1990. Edge was indicted on July 12, 1990. He was found guilty on December 10, 1990, and was sentenced on January 8, 1991. His motion for new trial was filed on January 4, 1991, and denied on April 5, 1991. The transcript was certified on January 25, 1991. A notice of appeal was filed on April 24, 1991. The appeal was docketed on May 17, 1991. Oral arguments were heard on September 23, 1991.

1. The evidence is sufficient to permit a rational trier of fact to find Edge guilty of voluntary manslaughter and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 ( 99 S.C. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560) (1979).

2. Edge contends the trial court erred by entering judgment on both verdicts for voluntary manslaughter and felony murder to stand since the basis for both was the same aggravated assault. We agree, and reverse the conviction for felony murder. Under Malone v. State, 238 Ga. 251, 252 ( 232 S.E.2d 907) (1977), where the evidence would authorize a verdict for either voluntary manslaughter or felony murder, the trial court should instruct the jury on both forms of homicide. However, where the jury renders a verdict for voluntary manslaughter, it cannot also find felony murder based on the same underlying aggravated assault. This can be understood by recognizing the theory of felony murder; that is, that it depends on the transfer or imputation of malice from the mens rea of the felonious assault to the killing. See Kurtz, Criminal Offenses Defenses in Georgia (3d ed. 1991) p. 251. If the jury finds voluntary manslaughter, it necessarily finds the felonious assault was mitigated by provocation, and committed without the mens rea essential to impute malice to the killing. Thus, the felony of assault in that instance cannot support a felony murder conviction because there is no malice to be transferred.

Professor Kurtz suggests Malone holds, implicitly, that an assault committed in the heat of passion cannot support a felony murder conviction. Kurtz, supra at p. 253. We are aware that OCGA § 16-5-1 (c) authorizes a felony murder conviction "irrespective of malice." That is, in fact, what distinguishes felony murder from malice murder. Nonetheless, we recognize that the fundamental justification for felony murder — a murder without the element of malice — was the level of malicious intent associated with a felony, especially a dangerous felony. See generally Crump Crump, In Defense of the Felony Murder Doctrine, Harvard Journal of Law Public Policy 359, 363 (1985).

On the other hand, the jury could find (which it did not in this case) that the aggravated assault was done with malice, in which case the assault could support a conviction for felony murder. Id. at 253. Stated another way, if there is but one assault and that assault could form the basis of either felony murder or voluntary manslaughter, a verdict of felony murder may not be returned if the jury finds that the assault is mitigated by provocation and passion. To hold otherwise would eliminate voluntary manslaughter as a separate form of homicide since, in that event, every voluntary manslaughter would also be a felony murder.

Disallowing a felony murder conviction where the underlying assault is found to have been mitigated by provoked passion is a somewhat modified version of the "merger doctrine," which we have considered on previous occasions. Lewis v. State, 260 Ga. 404, 405, n. 2 ( 396 S.E.2d 212) (1990); see also Baker v. State, 236 Ga. 754, 757 ( 225 S.E.2d 269) (1976) (rejecting adoption of the doctrine). That doctrine, which is the rule in most states, would preclude a felony murder conviction based upon an aggravated assault directed against the person who was killed. In Lewis v. State we noted that the strict liability element of felony murder, which allows the "bootstrapping" of an assault charge to support a felony murder conviction, is unfair in those instances where the killings otherwise could have been reduced, on the ground of mitigation, to manslaughter. People v. Ireland, 450 P.2d 580, 590 ( 70 Cal.2d 522) (1969).

In determining what, if any modifications should be made to our "strict liability" felony murder rule, we must examine the purpose behind that rule.

"The purpose of the felony-murder rule is to deter felons from killing negligently or accidentally by holding them strictly responsible for killings they commit." [Cit.] The Legislature has said in effect that this deterrent purpose out-weighs the normal legislative policy of examining the individual state of mind of each person causing an unlawful killing to determine whether the killing was with or without malice, deliberate or accidental, and calibrating our treatment of the person accordingly. Once a person perpetrates or attempts to perpetrate one of the enumerated felonies, then in the judgment of the Legislature, he is no longer entitled to such fine judicial calibration, but will be deemed guilty of first degree murder for any homicide committed in the course thereof.

People v. Burton, 491 P.2d 793, 801 ( 99 Cal.Rptr. 1) (1971). Instead of adopting the merger rule in toto — which would preclude felony murder based on any aggravated assault by the defendant on the victim — the modified version adopted by this opinion precludes a felony murder conviction only where it would prevent an otherwise warranted verdict of voluntary manslaughter. This result, in our view, answers the concerns expressed in Malone and Baker, the California cases cited herein, and many of the various commentators on this subject.

Our holding requires some precision in the charge to the jury where the evidence would authorize a conviction for felony murder or voluntary manslaughter. A sequential charge requiring the jury to consider voluntary manslaughter only if it has considered and found the defendant not guilty of malice murder and felony murder is not appropriate where there is evidence that would authorize a charge on voluntary manslaughter. The "sequential" charge eliminates the jury's full consideration of voluntary manslaughter because, if it concludes a felony murder occurred, it would not then go on to consider evidence of provocation or passion which might authorize a verdict for voluntary manslaughter. Instead, the trial court should instruct the jury so as to ensure adequate consideration of charges for both forms of homicide. To the extent Hill v. State, 259 Ga. 655, 657 (3) ( 386 S.E.2d 133) (1989); Alexander v. State, 247 Ga. 780, 784 (3) ( 279 S.E.2d 691) (1981), and Harrell v. State, 249 Ga. 48, 51 (5) ( 288 S.E.2d 192) (1982) conflict with this opinion, they are overruled.

In addition to the statutory definitions of the crimes involved, for example, murder, felony murder, and voluntary manslaughter, the jury should be admonished that if it finds provocation and passion with respect to the act which caused the killing, it could not find felony murder, but would be authorized to find voluntary manslaughter. Such instructions are necessary only when the aggravated assault is perpetrated against the homicide victim and is an integral part of the killing and when the evidence authorizes a voluntary manslaughter charge. On the other hand, this problem does not exist if the underlying felony is independent of the killing itself, such as burglary, robbery, or even an assault that is directed against someone other than the homicide victim. See Lewis v. State, supra.

Because the jury in this case convicted the defendant of both voluntary manslaughter and felony murder, it must be assumed the jurors found the underlying aggravated assault to be the product of provocation and passion. Thus, only the voluntary manslaughter conviction may stand. The felony murder conviction is, accordingly, reversed.

Judgment affirmed in part; reversed in part and remanded for sentencing as provided by law for the offense of voluntary manslaughter. Clarke, C. J., Weltner, P. J., Bell, Benham and Fletcher, JJ., concur.


DECIDED FEBRUARY 4, 1992 — RECONSIDERATION DENIED FEBRUARY 19, 1992.


Summaries of

Edge v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia
Feb 4, 1992
261 Ga. 865 (Ga. 1992)

holding a sequential instruction improper because it "eliminates the jury's full consideration of voluntary manslaughter relative to passion"

Summary of this case from State v. Humphrey

finding an acquittal-first felony-murder instruction precludes consideration of provocation evidence

Summary of this case from State v. Ambrose

adopting a modified merger rule

Summary of this case from Mosley v. State

In Edge v. State, 261 Ga. 865, 414 S.E.2d 463 (1992), we held that when a defendant is found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and felony murder premised on aggravated assault, and both charges arise from the same assault, the defendant should be convicted and sentenced only for voluntary manslaughter. 261 Ga. at 865-866 (2), 414 S.E.2d 463.

Summary of this case from Griggs v. State

In Edge v. State, 261 Ga. 865, 414 S.E.2d 463 (1992), this Court held that "where the jury renders a verdict for voluntary manslaughter, it cannot also find felony murder based on the same underlying aggravated assault."

Summary of this case from Owens v. State

In Edge, we held that "[a] sequential charge requiring the jury to consider voluntary manslaughter only if they have considered and found the defendant not guilty of malice murder and felony murder is not appropriate where there is evidence that would authorize a charge on voluntary manslaughter."

Summary of this case from Morris v. State

In Edge, this Court held that "[a] sequential charge requiring the jury to consider voluntary manslaughter only if it has considered and found the defendant not guilty of malice murder and felony murder is not appropriate where there is evidence that would authorize a charge on voluntary manslaughter," because if the jury concluded that a felony murder had occurred, "it would not then go on to consider evidence of provocation or passion which might authorize a verdict for voluntary manslaughter.

Summary of this case from Dent v. State

In Edge, this Court held that a charge is improperly sequential if it requires "the jury to consider voluntary manslaughter only if it has considered and found the defendant not guilty of malice murder and felony murder."

Summary of this case from Johnson v. State

In Edge v. State, 261 Ga. 865, 414 S.E.2d 463 (1992), this Court adopted what has come to be known as the “modified merger rule,” which holds that, when a defendant is found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, he cannot also be convicted of felony murder based on the same underlying acts. 261 Ga. at 868 (2), 414 S.E.2d 463. But this Court has consistently limited the application of the rule to cases in which the felony murder is predicated on a felony that is itself integral to the killing, typically an aggravated assault.

Summary of this case from DuBose v. State

In Edge v. State, 261 Ga. 865, 414 S.E.2d 463 (1992), this Court adopted what has come to be known as the “modified merger rule,” which holds that, when a defendant is found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, he cannot also be convicted of felony murder based on the same underlying acts. 261 Ga. at 868 (2), 414 S.E.2d 463. But this Court has consistently limited the application of the rule to cases in which the felony murder is predicated on a felony that is itself integral to the killing, typically an aggravated assault.

Summary of this case from DuBose v. State

In Edge v. State, 261 Ga. 865, 866–867(2), 414 S.E.2d 463 (1992), this Court adopted what has become known as the “ modified merger rule,” concluding that, when a defendant is found guilty of both voluntary manslaughter and felony murder predicated on aggravated assault, the trial court should sentence the defendant only for voluntary manslaughter.

Summary of this case from Amos v. State

In Edge, this Court held that, in cases involving a single assault that could form the basis for a conviction of either felony murder or voluntary manslaughter, if the jury finds that the assault was mitigated by provocation and passion, it is not permitted to return a guilty verdict on the murder charge.

Summary of this case from Ortiz v. State

In Edge,supra at 867, 414 S.E.2d 463, this Court held that a charge is improperly sequential if it requires " the jury to consider voluntary manslaughter only if it has considered and found the defendant not guilty of malice murder and felony murder."

Summary of this case from Loadholt v. State

In Edge, we adopted the "modified merger rule," which provides that a felony murder conviction is precluded only where it would prevent an otherwise warranted verdict of voluntary manslaughter. 261 Ga. at 867.

Summary of this case from Walker v. Williams

In Edge, we disapproved the trial court instructing the jury to consider voluntary manslaughter only after considering and finding the defendant not guilty of malice murder of felony murder.

Summary of this case from Davis v. State

In Edge, we adopted the "modified merger rule," which provides that a felony murder conviction is precluded only where it would prevent an otherwise warranted verdict of voluntary manslaughter.

Summary of this case from Harrison v. State

In Edge, this court adopted a modified merger rule, holding that a defendant could not be convicted and sentenced for felony murder based on aggravated assault as the underlying felony when the jury also convicted the defendant of voluntary manslaughter.

Summary of this case from Sims v. State

In Edge we dealt with the problem when evidence is presented that would support both a voluntary manslaughter and felony murder conviction based on an aggravated assault against the homicide victim.

Summary of this case from Foster v. State

In Edge, we applied a modified "merger doctrine" to the foregoing limited circumstances, because to do otherwise would eliminate voluntary manslaughter as a separate form of homicide.

Summary of this case from Foster v. State

In Edge, we considered the possibility of inconsistent felony murder and voluntary manslaughter verdicts only where the underlying assault for felony murder was provoked by the homicide victim.

Summary of this case from Foster v. State

In Edge, we limited the full scope of felonies that may be used to support a felony murder conviction to exclude the use of aggravated assault against the homicide victim only where the defendant's intent in assaulting the victim is mitigated so that the homicide would constitute voluntary manslaughter.

Summary of this case from Foster v. State

In Edge v. State, 261 Ga. 865 (414 S.E.2d 463) (1992) we adopted a modified version of the merger rule to ensure that persons would not be convicted of felony murder in cases where the facts otherwise warrant a verdict of voluntary manslaughter.

Summary of this case from Lajara v. State

In Edge, this Court adopted a modified version of the merger doctrine, holding that where there is only one assault which could form the basis of either felony murder or voluntary manslaughter, and a jury finds the assault was mitigated by provocation and passion, as evidenced by a conviction for voluntary manslaughter, then a concurrent conviction for felony murder must be vacated.

Summary of this case from Alexander v. State

In Edge this Court held that a charge is sequential if it requires "the jury to consider voluntary manslaughter only if it has considered and found the defendant not guilty of malice murder and felony murder."

Summary of this case from Head v. State

In Edge v. State, 261 Ga. 865 (414 S.E.2d 463) (1992), we held that some precision in the charge to the jury is required in cases where the evidence would authorize a conviction for either felony murder or voluntary manslaughter, and that in such cases a sequential charge requiring the jury to consider voluntary manslaughter only if it has considered and found the defendant not guilty of malice murder and felony murder is not appropriate.

Summary of this case from Stewart v. State
Case details for

Edge v. State

Case Details

Full title:EDGE v. THE STATE

Court:Supreme Court of Georgia

Date published: Feb 4, 1992

Citations

261 Ga. 865 (Ga. 1992)
414 S.E.2d 463

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