United States v. Fleming
739 F.2d 945 (1984)

  • Fleming was driving like a maniac. He was drunk and was being chased by the police. He swerved into oncoming traffic a few times, eventually running into Haley’s car and killing her.
    • The highway happened to be in a Federal park, so the case was heard in Federal Court.
  • Fleming was arrested and charged with murder.
  • The Trial Court found Fleming guilty of second-degree murder. He appealed.
    • Fleming argued that in order to be found guilty of second-degree murder, he would have had to have had malice aforethought.
      • Fleming wasn’t actively trying to kill anyone, running into Haley’s care was just an accident.
    • Fleming argued that at best he was just reckless, which would support a charge of only manslaughter.
  • The Appellate Court upheld the conviction.
    • The Appellate Court looked to the definition of malice aforethought in 18 U.S.C. §111(a) and found that is says that proof of malice aforethought may be established by evidence of “conduct which is reckless and wanton and a gross deviation from a reasonable standard of care, of such a nature that a jury is warranted in inferring that defendant was aware of a serious risk of death or serious bodily harm.”
    • The Court noted that because Fleming was voluntarily intoxicated, the prosecution did not have to establish that Fleming was even aware of the risk, which is normally required to establish recklessness.
      • See Model Penal Code §2.08(2).
    • The Court found that the difference between malice aforethought (for second-degree murder), and gross negligence (for involuntary manslaughter) is one of degree.
      • The jury has to look at each case on a case-by-case basis and determine if the behavior was just negligent, or was so negligent as to warrant a criminal penalty.