People v. Anderson

70 Cal.2d 15, 447 P.2d 942 (1968)

Quick Summary

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Robert Anderson (defendant) was convicted twice for the first-degree murder of 10-year-old Victoria after her body was found brutally attacked in her home. Mrs. Hammond (plaintiff), Victoria’s mother, alongside her son Kenneth, became suspicious upon finding bloodstains and receiving conflicting explanations from Anderson.

The Supreme Court of California reviewed whether juror exclusion based on capital punishment views was constitutional and if there was adequate evidence for a first-degree murder verdict. The Court concluded that both juror exclusion and evidence assessment were flawed, reducing the conviction to second-degree murder.

Facts of the Case

Facts of the case Icon

Robert Anderson (defendant) had been residing with Mrs. Hammond and her three children, one of whom was the 10-year-old victim, Victoria. On a fateful day when Mrs. Hammond was at work, Anderson, who had a history of heavy drinking, was at home with Victoria. Upon returning, Mrs. Hammond and her son Kenneth found blood in various parts of the house and received conflicting explanations from Anderson regarding the blood and Victoria’s whereabouts.

The gruesome discovery of Victoria’s body followed, leading to Anderson’s arrest. Victoria’s body bore evidence of a violent and fatal attack, with numerous wounds, including sexual assault indicators. Anderson’s bloody clothing was found in the home along with other incriminating evidence.

Despite the absence of spermatozoa on the victim or her clothing, the prosecution insisted on a sexual motivation behind the murder. Anderson was tried, found guilty of first-degree murder, and sentenced to death twice, with the first conviction overturned due to procedural issues.

Procedural Posture and History

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  1. Robert Anderson was initially tried and convicted of first-degree murder, and sentenced to death.
  2. The conviction and sentence were overturned on appeal due to procedural errors.
  3. Upon retrial, Anderson was again convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.
  4. The case was automatically reviewed by the California Supreme Court due to the imposition of the death penalty.

I.R.A.C. Format


Issue Icon
  • Whether the exclusion of certain jurors based on their views on capital punishment led to an unconstitutional imposition of the death penalty.
  • Whether the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support a conviction of first-degree murder.

Rule of Law

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In capital cases, a defendant may not be sentenced to death if jurors are excluded solely because of their general objections to the death penalty or their conscientious or religious scruples against its infliction. Furthermore, for a murder conviction to be elevated to first-degree, there must be substantial evidence of premeditation, deliberation, or commission during an attempt or perpetration of certain felonies.

Reasoning and Analysis

Reasoning Icon

The California Supreme Court found that the exclusion of jurors based on their views against capital punishment violated the standards set forth in Witherspoon v. Illinois. Additionally, the Court concluded that the evidence presented did not sufficiently support a conviction for first-degree murder on theories of premeditation and deliberation or murder committed during certain felonies.

The Court scrutinized the nature of the killing, rejecting the notion that brutality alone could indicate premeditation. It emphasized the need for evidence showing planning activity, motive, and a manner of killing that suggests a preconceived design.

The Court found such evidence lacking in Anderson’s case, particularly in light of similar cases where verdicts were reduced due to insufficient proof of premeditation.


Conclusion Icon

The death penalty imposition was deemed unconstitutional, and the evidence insufficient to support a first-degree murder conviction; therefore, Anderson’s conviction was reduced to second-degree murder.

Key Takeaways

Takeaway Icon
  1. Jurors cannot be excluded from a capital case solely because they are against the death penalty.
  2. Premeditation and deliberation require more than just evidence of brutality; there must be substantial proof of planning, motive, and execution according to a preconceived design.
  3. A verdict can be reduced if evidence is insufficient to support a higher degree of murder under review by an appellate court.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What determines whether a homicide qualifies as first-degree murder under the law?

First-degree murder requires proof of premeditation, deliberation, and the intent to kill. The perpetrator must have weighed and considered the decision to kill ahead of time, rather than acting on impulse or in the heat of the moment.

  • For example: If an individual purchases a weapon, stakes out the victim’s habitual locations, and then commits the killing, this could constitute sufficient evidence of premeditation and deliberation for first-degree murder.

How does jury selection in capital cases affect the fairness of the trial?

In capital cases, excluding jurors solely because they express general objections to capital punishment can result in an unrepresentative jury and skew the sentencing determination toward death. A fair cross-section of the community must be allowed, which includes those with various views on capital punishment.

  • For example: If potential jurors are systematically dismissed due to their opposition to the death penalty, leaving only those in favor, it can raise concerns about the impartiality and representative nature of the jury.

What is the significance of 'Witherspoon v. Illinois' regarding juror exclusion?

‘Witherspoon v. Illinois’ established that disqualifying jurors purely because of their personal opposition to the death penalty violates a defendant’s constitutional rights to an impartial jury. This ensures that jurors are not selected based on their willingness to impose capital punishment.

  • For example:A juror who states that they would automatically vote against the death penalty may be disqualified, but those who express general concerns against it should not be excluded merely for holding such beliefs.


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