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People v. Fuller

    Citation. 86 Cal. App. 3d 618, 150 Cal. Rptr. 515, 1978 Cal. App. 2109.

    Brief Fact Summary. This appeal challenges the California felony-murder rule as it applies to an unintentionally caused death during a high-speed automobile chase following the commission of a non-violent, daylight burglary of an unattended motor vehicle.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. California Penal Code Section:189 provides, in pertinent part: “All murder which is committed in the perpetration of, or attempt to perpetrate, arson, rape, robbery, burglary, mayhem or lewd acts with a minor, is murder in the first degree.”

    Facts. On February 20, 1977, uniformed Cadet Police Officer Ballesteroz was on routine patrol in his vehicle when he noticed suspicious activity in the Fresno Dodge car lot. Officer Ballesteroz noticed an older model Plymouth parked in front of the lot and also observed the Respondents, Fuller and another (Respondents) rolling two tires apiece toward the vehicle. After Officer Ballesteroz radioed for police assistance and he proceeded to drive away from the lot. However, the Respondents got into the Plymouth and drove away at a high rate of speed. As a result, a high-speed crash ensued and ended with the Respondents’ car running through a red light. When their car ran through the light, it struck another vehicle that had entered the intersection, killing that car’s driver. Later investigation revealed that four locked Dodge vans at the lot had been forcibly entered and their spare tires were removed. Fingerprints from both of the Respondents were found on the jacks in some of the veh
    icles.

    Issue. Can the felony-murder rule apply to the Respondents as a result of their involvement in a burglary that resulted in the killing of the driver of an automobile following Respondents’ high-speed getaway from the scene of the burglary?

    Held. Solely by force of precedent, the Fifth District Court of Appeal held that the felony-murder rule applies to burglary and as a result, the Respondents can be prosecuted for first-degree murder.

    Discussion. Although the court followed applicable precedent and the exiting California statute regarding the felony-murder rule, the court, at the end of the opinion, stated that if they were working “from a clean slate” they would not have applied the rule. The court found that the automobile burglary itself was not dangerous to human life. Through their stern rebuke of the existing state-of-the-law, the court noted that the felony-murder rule should not continue to extend infinitely after the commission of the target offense.


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