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Rivera v. Coombe

decided: June 29, 1982.

EDWIN RIVERA, PETITIONER-APPELLEE,
v.
PHILIP COOMBE, JR., SUPERINTENDENT, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT



Respondent appeals from an order granting a writ of habeas corpus and vacating a conviction for first-degree manslaughter. The Southern District of New York, Ward, J., held that the instruction of intent violated petitioner's right to due process under Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510, 61 L. Ed. 2d 39, 99 S. Ct. 2450 (1979). Reversed. Judge Oakes dissents in a separate opinion.

Lumbard, Moore and Oakes, Circuit Judges. Oakes, Circuit Judge, dissenting.

Author: Lumbard

LUMBARD, Circuit Judge:

In 1974, the petitioner, Edwin "Teddybear" Rivera, stabbed a man in the back and killed him. He was subsequently convicted of first-degree manslaughter after a jury trial in the Bronx County Supreme Court. On February 11, 1982, the Southern District of New York, Ward, J., 534 F. Supp. 980, granted Rivera's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, holding that the trial court's instruction on intent violated Rivera's right to due process of law under Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510, 61 L. Ed. 2d 39, 99 S. Ct. 2450 (1979). We disagree and we reverse.

I.

On the evening of February 28, 1974, Guy Keyes, Jr., came up to seventeen-year-old Rosaria "Coochie" Castro in front of the Carvel store on Boston Road in the Bronx. Rivera, then sixteen, was with Coochie. Keyes, a twenty-two-year-old black man, asked her for a cigarette and "a nickel or a dime." She gave him the cigarette, but told him she had no money, and Keyes started arguing with her and Rivera. She then asked Rivera to take her back to her grandmother's store, the Aida Superette, located just down the block. Rivera escorted her there but remained outside.

About ten minutes after Coochie returned to the store, Keyes entered the Superette with two other black men. Like Keyes, they were each about six feet tall. Keyes announced "We are looking for trouble." Coochie and her grandmother began yelling at the three men, telling them to get out, "We don't want no trouble." Coochie's brother, John Velez, heard the yelling and came out of the back room of the store to see what the fuss was about. He saw Keyes and the others leaving, and he followed them out to fight with Keyes, taking his shirt off as he went.

As Velez exited the store, Keyes's two companions were holding Keyes back. A crowd (including Rivera) gathered on the sidewalk. Velez demanded that Keyes fight, but his grandmother and Coochie pushed him back into the store before a fight started.

When Velez next looked out the window of the store, Keyes and the other two black men were gone. He saw Keyes running, turning east on 174th Street from Boston Road. A number of people, including Rivera, were following him.*fn1 Velez testified that Rivera was about 70-80 feet behind Keyes but that Rivera was "running fast." He lost sight of the chase after everyone turned the corner. Velez never saw Keyes again.

Within about ten minutes, Rivera returned to the Superette. On the way, he saw his friend, Jose Mendez, outside on the street, and told Mendez, "I think I stabbed him in the back." Rivera then entered the Superette, where he displayed a three to four inch knife with a rounded tip and blood on the handle. According to Velez, after showing the knife, Rivera announced, "I think I stabbed him," later adding that it was in the back. Velez also testified that Rivera appeared intoxicated.

At about the same time, Guy Keyes staggered into a liquor store on 174th Street, where he collapsed on the floor. He was taken to a hospital where he died the next day of a single penetrating stab wound four to five inches deep. The knife had entered two and a half inches from the spine on the right side of his back and had traveled down and forward, through the lung, terminating against the spine. The pathologist testified that such a wound could have been caused by an individual running up behind another individual, catching up to him, and plunging a knife like Rivera's in with a downward thrust.

Rivera took the stand in his own defense. He admitted running after Keyes, but denied chasing Keyes with the intent of stabbing him, denied stabbing Keyes, denied ever telling anyone that he had stabbed Keyes, and denied possessing or displaying a knife. He insisted that he followed Keyes only to the corner and had there lost sight of him. Finally, Rivera stated that he had drunk no liquor whatsoever the night that Guy Keyes was stabbed.

Justice Ivan Warner charged the jury on the elements of second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter, and misdemeanor weapon possession. The relevant instruction here concerns intent, which Justice Warner defined as follows:

I shall now define intent for you. A person is presumed to intend the natural and probable consequences of his act. Criminal intent is an intent to do knowingly and wilfully that which is condemned as wrong by the law. A criminal intent may be inferred from all the circumstances of the case. It need not be established by direct proof. To constitute the crime there must not only be the act but also the criminal intent and these must occur, the latter being equally essential with the former. The existence of criminal intent constitutes a question of fact for determination by you and the burden of showing intent, the intent with which a crime has been committed rests upon the prosecution to establish it by evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. So where the law requires that the People must establish a specific or certain intent on the part of one charged with the commission of a crime, the law does not expect or require for obvious reasons that intent must be proved by directed proof to an absolute certainty or with mathematical precision. Intent, I mean criminal intent, is always an essential element to the commission of the crime such as we have here and it may be proved by direct evidence or it may be proved from circumstances surrounding the transaction or the act itself, or it may be proved by a combination of both. What is intent? Intent is a frame of mind of the perpetrator of the act at the time he commits it. You must probe the mind. You may say to yourself how are we to determine what a man's intentions are. Well members of the ...


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