This is an audio case brief of Hines v. State, 578 S.E. 2d 868 (Ga. 2003) The audio brief provides a full case analysis. However a written summary of the case is provided below.
The evidence at trial showed that, late in the afternoon of April 8, 2001, Hines and some of his friends and relatives went turkey hunting. They split into two groups, with Hines and his friend Randy Stoker hunting together in one area, and the victim, the victim’s wife, and Hines’s son hunting in a different area, approximately one-fourth mile away. As the sky was growing dark, Hines heard a turkey gobble, “saw it fan out and shot.” Hines’s shot went through heavy foliage and hit the victim approximately eighty feet away. Immediately thereafter, the victim’s wife screamed, “You shot Wood.” Hines and his son went for help, but the victim died before help could arrive. On his return, Hines tried to convince his son and Stoker to take responsibility for the shooting. They both refused.
The entire group, however, agreed to say that they did not know who had shot Wood. Hines removed his camouflage clothing and hid his shotgun and hunting gear before the police arrived. Two days later, Hines admitted he had shot Wood and showed the police where he had hidden his shotgun. Hines’s son showed the police where he had hidden Hines’s hunting clothing and gear, which included unopened cans of beer. An open beer can and foam insulation wrap that belonged to Hines were found near where Hines had fired the fatal shot. Hines was a convicted felon.
A jury convicted Hines of felony murder based on the underlying crime of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, but acquitted him of felony murder based on the underlying felony of misuse of a firearm while hunting.
Hines appealed his conviction. On appeal, he argued that a convicted felon’s possession of a firearm while turkey hunting cannot be one of the inherently dangerous felonies required to support a conviction for felony murder
The issue is whether Hines, a convicted felon’s, possession of a firearm is inherently dangerous per se or by its circumstances creates a foreseeable risk of death.
The only limitation on the type of felony that may serve as an underlying felony for a felony murder conviction is that the felony must be inherently dangerous to human life. A felony is “inherently dangerous” when it is “‘dangerous per se'” or “‘by its circumstances creates a foreseeable risk of death.'” Depending on the facts, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon can be an inherently dangerous felony.
Here is how the court applied this rule to the facts of this case.
The court begun its analysis by examining how the felony murder doctrine had been applied in a similar case.
In In Ford v. State, the defendant was a convicted felon who was unloading a handgun when it accidentally discharged, went through the floor, and killed an occupant of the apartment below. A jury convicted Ford for felony murder based on his felonious possession of a firearm. This Court reversed, finding that, because no evidence showed the defendant knew there was an apartment below him or that the victim was present, his possession of a firearm could not support a conviction for felony murder.
In contrast to Ford, Hines conduct was inherently dangerous as committed.
And here is why.
The court stated that Hines intentionally fired his shotgun intending to hit his target. He had been drinking before he went hunting, and there was evidence that he had been drinking while hunting. He knew that other hunters were in the area and was unaware of their exact location. He also knew that other people visited the area in which he was hunting. He took an unsafe shot at dusk, through heavy foliage, at a target eighty feet away that he had not positively identified as a turkey. Under these circumstances, we conclude that Hines’s illegal possession of a firearm created a foreseeable risk of death. Accordingly, Hines’s violation of the prohibition against convicted felons possessing firearms was an inherently dangerous felony that could support a felony murder conviction.
Hines judgement was affirmed because the circumstances surrounding Hines’s commission of the felony of possessing a firearm were inherently dangerous.