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People v. Berry

Supreme Court of California
134 Cal. Rptr. 415 (1976)


Facts

At the time of this case, § 192 of the California Penal Code defined voluntary manslaughter as “the unlawful killing of a human being, without malice… upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.” Three days after marrying Berry (defendant), Rachel went by herself to her native Israel, where she spent over a month, returning on July 23, 1974. Rachel informed Berry upon her return that she had fallen in love and shared sexual encounters with a man named Yako, and wanted a divorce. An argument ensued which escalated into mutual physical violence, but the couple continued to live together nonetheless. Rachel proceeded to taunt Berry over a subsequent two-week period, claiming she could be pregnant with Yako’s child and showing Berry pictures of them together, while at the same time routinely demanding sex from Berry and indicating a desire to continue their relationship. On July 22, after returning home from a romantic outing, Rachel and Berry got in bed, where she said that she had planned on having sex with him that night, but decided instead to save herself for Yako. Berry then got up to leave, Rachel began screaming at him, and he choked her into unconsciousness. Berry called a taxi to take his wife to the hospital and left the apartment. Rachel was interviewed by a police officer at the hospital, and a warrant was issued for Berry’s arrest. Rachel called Berry and told him about the warrant. When the two met the next day at their apartment, they had a brief verbal exchange and Rachel began screaming. They struggled as Berry unsuccessfully tried to silence her until he strangled her with a telephone chord. Berry was charged with murder. At Berry’s trial, Dr. Blinder, a doctor and psychiatrist appearing as a defense witness, testified that Rachel was suicidal and that her taunting of Berry was an unconscious attempt to provoke him into killing her. When he did so, he was in a state of uncontrollable rage, influenced only by passion. The trial court refused Berry’s request to instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter. Berry was convicted of murder and appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court of California.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Sullivan, J.)

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