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State v. Peralta.

May 27, 1997

STATE OF WASHINGTON, RESPONDENT,
v.
EDUARDO L. PERALTA. APPELLANT.



Appeal from Superior Court of King County. Docket No: 90-1-03945-1. Date filed: 09/11/95. Judge signing: Hon. William L. Downing.

Authored by William W. Baker. Concurring: Susan R. Agid, Walter E. Webster.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baker

BAKER, C.J. - Evidence sufficient to support the premeditation element of first degree murder must support actual deliberation apart from the mere fact of commission of the fatal act. Circumstantial evidence may meet this test. We hold that in this case substantial evidence permits a reasonable inference that Eduardo Peralta premeditated the murder of his wife.

We also hold that because Peralta himself made the ultimate decision not to testify at trial, and because his attorney did not actually prevent him from testifying, there has been no violation of Peralta's right to testify in his own behalf. Lastly we reject all of Peralta's evidentiary challenges, and affirm his conviction for first degree murder.

Because this opinion will not be published, and the parties are familiar with the facts, we proceed without an introductory summary of the facts, including them within our Discussion only as necessary.

I

When considering a defendant's challenge to the sufficiency of evidence in a criminal case, the appellate court is to determine "'whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.'" *fn1

Peralta was convicted of first degree murder. *fn2 A person is guilty of murder in the first degree when "with a premeditated intent to cause the death of another person, he or she causes the death of such person." *fn3 Premeditation has been defined as "'the deliberate formation of and reflection upon the intent to take a human life'", *fn4 and involves "'the mental process of thinking beforehand, deliberation, reflection, weighing or reasoning for a period of time, however short.'" *fn5 Premeditation "must involve more than a moment in point of time." *fn6 Evidence of an opportunity to deliberate by the mere passage of time is not evidence that the defendant actually deliberated, and alone is insufficient evidence to support a finding of premeditation. *fn7

At the close of the State's case, the defense moved unsuccessfully to dismiss the charge of murder in the first degree, arguing that there had been no showing of premeditation and therefore the issue should not go to the jury. Peralta argues on appeal that there was insufficient evidence of premeditation to support his conviction of first degree murder. *fn8

Contrary to Peralta's argument, case law does not support a rule that in order to prove premeditation beyond a reasonable doubt the State must bring forth direct evidence conclusively establishing the facts surrounding the killing. Circumstantial evidence may be used to prove premeditation where the inferences drawn by the jury are reasonable, and the evidence in support of the jury's findings is substantial. *fn9 Case law demonstrates that "a wide range of proven facts will support an inference of premeditation." *fn10

Our courts have defined four characteristics of the underlying crime that are considered particularly relevant to establish premeditation: motive, stealth, *fn11 method of killing, and the procurement of a weapon. *fn12

Motive

At trial, evidence was presented of a marital relationship that likely erupted into physical violence against the victim. *fn13 Peralta was a man who acted out in jealousy. *fn14 He had an open and intimate relationship with another woman, yet he accused his wife of "doing something to the family" when she began to spend time with another man, in a relationship that appears to have been platonic. Ample evidence presented at trial established a possible motive.

Multiple Gun Shot Wounds/Stealth

The victim was shot at least three times at close range. Evidence of multiple acts of violence supports an inference of premeditation. *fn15 It has been suggested that evidence of violence and multiple wounds cannot, standing alone, support an inference of deliberation actually occurring, and therefore of premeditation. *fn16 When there is evidence of possible motive in addition to ...


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