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People v. Cleaves

California Court of Appeal
229 Cal. App. 3d 367 (1991)


Facts

John Cleaves (defendant) was present at the death of Mr. Eaton. Cleaves and Eaton had engaged in a one-night sexual encounter, after which Eaton said that he had AIDS and wished to commit suicide before reaching the late stages of the disease. Cleaves, who had previously witnessed the impact of AIDS on his friends, agreed to help Eaton commit suicide by strangulation. Eaton tied a sash around his neck and had Cleaves attach the sash to Eaton’s hands and feet such that Eaton could strangle himself by straightening his body while lying facedown on the bed. Cleaves, without using pressure on Eaton, placed his hands on Eaton’s back to prevent Eaton from falling off the bed. After the sash slipped from Eaton’s neck, Cleaves reattached the sash. Cleaves admitted that, after the reattachment, he exerted additional pressure and also lay on Eaton to keep Eaton steady. According to Cleaves, he did not otherwise participate in the physical strangulation, which occurred as a result of Eaton straightening his body. After Eaton’s death, Cleaves left Eaton’s home with some of Eaton’s personal property and withdrew cash from Eaton’s bank account, per an agreement between Cleaves and Eaton before the suicide. Cleaves was convicted of second-degree murder under California Penal Code section 187 after the trial court denied Cleaves’s request for a jury instruction on the lesser offense of aiding and abetting a suicide under California Penal Code section 401. Cleaves appealed his conviction on the ground that the trial court erred in denying his request for the additional jury instruction.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Work, J.)

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