In re Ferrell: Murder Conviction Reversed Due to Improper Jury Instruction
In the case of In re Ferrell, the court reversed the defendant’s murder conviction due to erroneous jury instruction regarding a legally invalid theory of murder. If you have been charged with murder or any serious crime, contact our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich to see if you may have been convicted due to improper jury instructions. If so, you may be eligible to have your conviction reversed. Continue reading to learn more about the case.
After a fight between two gangs, defendant Tyree Ferrell discharged a firearm, which struck his friend Lawrence Rawlings and killed him. Ferrell fled the state, but once police located him, he admitted to being at the fight and firing the gun. However, he stated that he had pointed the gun in the air and could only have shot Rawlings by accident. Although Ferrell was only 17 years old when he shot Rawlings, the juvenile court deemed Ferrell unfit for rehabilitation in the juvenile system and transferred him to be prosecuted in adult court.
At trial, the prosecutor told the jury that they could find Ferrell guilty of first or second degree murder, or involuntary manslaughter at minimum. Further, the prosecutor offered 3 possible theories of second degree murder:
- Express malice murder, which requires an intent to kill
- Implied malice murder, which requires an intentional act whose natural consequences are dangerous to human life and which was deliberately performed
- Felony murder, which requires the killing to occur during a felony, specifically the willful discharge of a firearm in a grossly negligent manner
The jury subsequently found Ferrell guilty of second-degree murder but did not specify which theory supported their verdict. As such, Ferrell was sentenced to 40 years to life for the murder of Rawlings.
Years later, the California Supreme Court ruled that assaultive felonies, such as the willful discharge of a firearm under PC Section 246.3, could not support a felony murder conviction. Ferrell petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus, asserting that the jury received felony-murder instructions based on a Section 246.3 violation, allowing the jury to convict him on a theory that was no longer valid. Therefore, the reviewing court must reverse unless it concludes beyond a reasonable doubt that the error did not contribute to the verdict.
In analyzing whether the error was harmless, the court looked to whether it was possible to have found what the verdict did without the invalid theory. The government argued that the error was in fact harmless because the evidence presented at trial established implied malice murder, not just felony murder. However, the court disagreed. Rather, the court held that it was unclear whether Ferrell was aiming at a specific target and may have only believed that he was shooting skyward. Thus, the jury could have rejected malice and rendered a different verdict but for the erroneous felony murder instructions. Ultimately, Ferrell was entitled to reversal of his second-degree murder conviction.
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If you believe that you or a loved one has been convicted of murder due to improper jury instruction, contact Wallin & Klarich as soon as possible to see how we can help. At Wallin & Klarich, we stay up to date with the most recent legal developments so that we can better assist you. With 40+ years of experience, our attorneys have helped thousands of clients with their murder cases, and we have the skills and resources to help you restore your freedom and reputation.
With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville, Torrance, West Covina, Los Angeles, and San Diego, you are sure to find an available and convenient attorney near you. Discover how our team can assist you. Contact us today, toll-free at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free consultation with a skilled defense attorney.