Tuesday, February 26, 2013

People v. Smith case brief

People v. Smith case brief summary
35 Cal. 3d 798

PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Defendant appealed from a judgment of the Superior Court of San Luis Obispo County (California), in which she was convicted of second-degree murder, under Cal. Penal Code § 187, on a felony-murder theory in which the underlying felony was felony child abuse under Cal. Penal Code § 273a(1).

OVERVIEW: Defendant was convicted of felony child abuse under Cal. Penal Code § 273a(1), and of second-degree murder under Cal. Penal Code § 187. The murder conviction was based on a felony-murder theory in which the underlying felony was the felony child abuse. Defendant appealed, and the court reversed the judgment insofar as it convicted defendant of second-degree murder.

The court held that because the homicide was the result of assaultive child abuse, the underlying felony in the felony-murder theory was unquestionably an integral part of the homicide.

-Thus, the court held that the offense merged into the homicide and it was error to give the jury a felony-murder instruction.
-The court held that because the people could not show that no juror relied on the erroneous instruction as the sole basis for finding defendant guilty of murder, the error was prejudicial.
-The court held also that the felony child abuse statute, § 273a(1), was not void as unconstitutionally vague.

OUTCOME: Defendant's conviction for second-degree murder was reversed because defendant's commission of felony child abuse merged into the homicide for which defendant was convicted, and thus, could not be the underlying felony in a felony-murder theory.

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