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Premeditated Murder (First Degree)

Case: United States v. Watson, 501 A.2d 791 (1985) [p. 330-334]

Facts: Officer was pursuing the Δ for stealing a car. Δ ran into an apartment, made a phone call, and waited for
the officer to arrive. When the officer came, the Δ resisted arrest, fought with the officer, and took his gun. But
rather than escaping, the Δ shot the officer while he was on the floor. The officer twice told Δ that "it wasn’t
worth it," but Δ ignored and still killed him. Δ was convicted of first degree murder. Δ now appeals, arguing
there was insufficient evidence of premeditation and deliberation.

Holding: The court held that there was in fact sufficient evidence, whereby a jury could conclude that that Δ
had acted with premeditation and deliberation. Evidence was sufficient circumstantial evidence from which
premeditation could be inferred:
• When he ran into the apartment, he sat down at the table, and waited for officer to arrive. So, he had
time to think about what he would do.
• Δ did not flee when he had the opportunity to do so, and instead shot the officer when he was on the
floor, and did not pose a threat to him.
o 3 feet away from officer when he shot him - he could walk away
o Successfully overpowered officer, had the gun, and could have left
• Officer twice told him "it wasn’t worth it" but Δ still shot him
o Officer pleading for his life - telling Δ its not worth it. But Δ still shoots him. Basically, he is
making a decision after hearing what officer is telling him.
• Timing - talked about girls leaving the room - they run 16-20 seconds before they heard the shot
There was sufficient time for the Δ to think about what he was doing, so sufficient evidence of deliberate acts.

Class Notes
o No legal minimum to how long premeditation should take - just some time to think about it
o Time - not just quantitative
o Also qualitative - it was down time, quiet waiting for officer to show up; that he had
overpowered officer, and quality time in deciding whether to kill him
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Notes: [p. 334-340]


o Duration
o "no specific amount of time is necessary to demonstrate premeditation and deliberation and the
government need not show a lapse of days, hours, or even minutes, but some appreciable time
must elapse.
o State v. Bingham (1986) - Δ strangled a mentally retarded woman to death. Lower court said that
because the strangulation lasted at least 3 minutes, there was premeditation. State Supreme Court
reversed, holding that both the time for and the fact o deliberation are required, and that a reasonable
jury cannot infer deliberation simply from the length of time.
o Criteria of Premeditation
o Appellate courts will often cite evidentiary factors in determining whether the evidence was
sufficient to support a jury verdict of 1st degree murder
o Earlier hostility between the Δ and the victim (like a pattern of abusing the victim,
spouse)
o Self-interested motive (like a fight about money)
o The manner and circumstances of the killing (interruption and subsequent continuation of
the killing, where Δ adjusted gun during murder; where murder weapon, a hammer, was
wrapped in cloth)
o Δ's behavior before the killing (stalking victim)
o Origin of the murder weapon (Δ bringing a loaded gun)
o Deliberation vs Premeditation
o Kazalyn v. State (1992) - Defined premeditation - a design, a determination to kill, distinctly
formed in the mind at any moment before or at the time of the killing.
o Byford v. State (2000)
o Deliberation is the process of determining upon a course of action to kill as a result of
thought, including weighing the reasons for and against the action and considering the
consequences of the action.
o A deliberate determination may be arrived at in a short period of time. But in all cases the
determination must not be formed in passion, or if formed in passion, it must be carried
out after there has been time for the passion to subside and deliberation to occur. A mere
unconsidered and rash impulse is not deliberate, even though it includes the intent to kill.
o Mental Disorder
o Commonwealth v. Gould (1980) - Δ convicted of 1st degree murder; he was diagnosed as a
paranoid schizophrenic, and believed he was killing her justly. Δ plead insanity. Court held that Δ
entitled to offer evidence of his mental condition in order to try to persuade the jury that even if
he was guilty of an intentional killing, he was unable to premeditate one.