State v. Stitt, 61 S.E. 566 (NC Supreme Court 1908)




146 N.C. 643; 61 S.E. 566; 1908 N.C. LEXIS 279

May 6, 1908, Filed

Assistant Attorney-General for the State.
No counsel contra.





There is no error in the record which gives the defendant any just ground of complaint. The court correctly held that, on the testimony, defendant could not be convicted of murder. A conviction of murder should never be allowed unless there has been an unlawful and intentional taking of another’s life. Some-times this intent will be imputed by reason of the killing with a deadly weapon, or under circumstances which indicate a reckless indifference to human life, but it must always exist before a charge of murder can be sustained. And in the pre-sent case we think the testimony on the part of the State was of a kind to justify the position that no intentional killing of the deceased had been shown. In no aspect of the evidence, however, if believed, could the defendant be held entirely innocent, and his prayers for instructions based upon any such view of the facts were, therefore, properly rejected.

It is well established that if one causes the death of another by reason of culpable negligence, or by an un-lawful act which amounts to an assault on the person, he is guilty at least of the crime of manslaughter. State v. Turn-age, 138 N.C. 566, 49 S.E. 913; State v. Vines, 93 N.C. 493; People v. Stubenvoll, 62 Mich. 329, 28 N.W. 883; Wharton on Homicide (3d Ed.), p. 696. In State v. Turnage, supra, it is held that, if death ensues from the unjustifiable and reckless use of a gun, it is manslaughter, whether the gun was intentionally discharged by the prisoner or not. And, delivering the opinion, Associate Justice Brown, for the Court, said: “We do not controvert any of the legal propositions contended for by the State as to what acts will constitute manslaughter, when death ensues from the reckless use of a deadly weapon, such as a pistol or gun. Pointing a gun at another, under such circumstances as would not excuse its intentional discharge, constitutes, in this and many other States, a statutory misdemeanor, and an accidental killing occasioned by it is manslaughter.” True, a new trial was ordered in Turnage’s case, but that was chiefly because the defendant had expressly testified that he did not intentionally point the gun at any one.

In State v. Vines, supra, it is held: “Where one is engaged in an unlawful and dangerous sport and kills an-other by accident, it is manslaughter.” The pointing of a gun or pistol at another has come to be so generally recognized as an act importing negligence that “Didn’t know it was loaded” has passed into a saying descriptive of the serious or fatal results that frequently attend such conduct, and with us the matter has been considered of such importance that our statute law (Revisal, sec. 3622) has made it a misdemeanor, punishable by fine or imprisonment, or both, in the discretion of the court, for anyone to point a gun or pistol at another, “in fun or otherwise, and whether the gun or pistol shall be loaded or unloaded.”

According to defendant’s statement, he intentionally pointed the gun at the deceased, and, while it is not a matter of controlling importance, he evidently snapped it, for his exclamation was: “Goodness! I did not know there was a shell in the gun.” And this, too, when his testimony further shows that he had not handled or examined the gun in three or four weeks. His own version of the occurrence, therefore, brings his conduct within the condemnation of either principle announced and sustained by the authorities cited. He was culpably negligent, and was engaged at the time in an act which by our statute is made an unlawful assault on the deceased. There is nothing here said which militates in any way against the doctrine upheld by this Court in the case of State v. Horton, 139 N.C. 588, 51 S.E. 945. In that case the facts were presented to the Court in the form of a special verdict, by which, with other statements, it was made to appear “that said killing was wholly unintentional; that the shooting of the deceased was done while the defendant was under the impression and belief that he was shooting at a wild turkey; that the hunting engaged in was not in itself dangerous to human life, nor was he reckless in the manner of hunting and handling the firearm with which the killing was done.” A perusal of the opinion will disclose that these facts just mentioned were referred to throughout as controlling in the case, and were made the basis of the judgment on which the defendant’s innocence was declared. In the opening sentence of the opinion the Judge said: “It will be noted that the finding of the jury declares that the act of the defendant was not in itself dangerous to human life, and excludes every element of criminal negligence.” And on page 592: “The special verdict having found that the act in which the defendant was engaged was not in itself dangerous to human life, and negatived all idea of negligence, we hold that the case is one of excusable homicide.”

The two cases are thus clearly distinguished, and in the case at bar the Judge could well have charged that, if the jury was satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant intentionally pointed the gun at the deceased, and while so engaged the gun was discharged, killing the deceased, the defendant would be guilty of manslaughter.

There is no error to defendant’s prejudice, and the judgment below is affirmed.
No Error.

Leave a Reply