Friday, November 15, 2013

Keeler v. Superior Court case brief

Keeler v. Superior Court case brief summary
 470 P.2d 617 (1970)

Petitioner was charged by information with murder in violation of Cal. Penal Code § 187 for beating his wife, which caused her fetus to be stillborn. Respondent Superior Court of Amador City (California) denied petitioner's motion to set aside the information for lack of probable cause. Petitioner sought a writ of prohibition.

Petitioner accosted his wife after finding out she was pregnant with another man's child. He began to beat her in the abdomen. As a result, the fetus was stillborn.


  • The court issued the writ and held that an unborn but viable fetus was not a human being within meaning of Cal. Penal Code § 187. 
  • The court's extensive survey of the legislature's intent and purpose in adopting § 187 revealed that it did not intend to bring an unborn fetus within reaches of the statute. 
  • The court construed § 187 in petitioner's favor. 
  • The court declared that it would exceed its judicial and constitutional limits if it were it to declare an unborn fetus to be within the murder statute. 
  • Furthermore, assuming the court could adopt such a rule, it could only apply it prospectively. 
  • Applying the new rule to petitioner would have violated petitioner's right to due process.

The court issued a peremptory writ of prohibition restraining the trial court from proceeding with prosecution for murder because an unborn fetus was not a human being within the meaning of California's murder statute.

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