Can Accomplice to Murder Be Convicted of Manslaughter ?
In People v. Blackwood (1939) 35 Cal. App. 2d 728, 96 P.2d 982, this court concluded that, because of the actors' different states of mind, an accomplice could be convicted of manslaughter despite the fact the actual perpetrator had been convicted of murder.
"We do not believe that the rule that the two principals are equally guilty is so inflexible that a jury might not find them guilty of different degrees of crime even though they are tried jointly. for the evidence against them is not necessarily precisely the same.
The firing of the shots by Blackwood warranted an inference of the malice which is essential to the crime of murder, while Mrs. Blackwood might not be chargeable with guilty knowledge of that malice, but might nevertheless be guilty of aiding and abetting him in the commission of voluntary manslaughter 'upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.'" (Id. at p. 733.)
Although Blackwood involved a conviction of the accomplice for a lesser offense than the actual perpetrator, decisions from other states have upheld convictions for greater offenses.
In State v. McAllister (La. 1978) 366 So. 2d 1340, the court concluded an accomplice could be convicted of first degree murder despite the fact the actual perpetrator had been found guilty of manslaughter on the basis of a heat of passion theory.
According to the court: "One who aids and abets in the commission of a crime may be charged [with] and convicted [of] a higher or lower degree of crime depending on the mental element proved at trial.
The actual perpetrator of the crime may act in hot blood, in which case he would be guilty of manslaughter, while the instigator may act cooly and thus be guilty of murder. . . . While 'passion' may be a mitigating element for the actual perpetrator and serve as a defense to first degree murder for him, it may not be asserted by a principal who lacks the requisite mitigating element." (Id. at p. 1343.)