Brief Fact Summary. Defendant Burroughs, a “healer,” was convicted for felony murder and felony practicing medicine without a license after a patient in his care died.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. In order to be guilty of felony murder, the underlying felony must be “inherently dangerous to human life.”
Issue. Did the trial judge properly instruct the jury that the unlicensed practice of medicine is “inherently dangerous to human life?”
When an individual causes the death of another in the furtherance of a felony, he may be liable for felony murder. However, one cannot be liable for felony murder unless the felony is “inherently dangerous to human life.”
The rationale behind such a rule is that “[i]f the felony is not inherently dangerous, it is highly improbable that the potential felon will be deterred: he will not anticipate that injury or death might arise solely from the fact that he will commit the felony.”
In the present case, practicing medicine without a license is not an inherently dangerous felony. Depending on the affliction, the risk of death is often minimal with the unlicensed practice of medicine. Further, an element causing the practice of medicine without license to rise to the felony level is causing or creating a risk of serious illness or death. Listing the word “death” in the disjunctive implies the felony can be committed without risking death. Therefore, the Defendant’s conviction for felony murder cannot stand.
Discussion. Death must be caused while committing an inherently dangerous felony for a person to be criminally liable for felony murder.