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People v. Stewart

    Citation. 22 Ill.663 A.2d 912 (R.I. 1995)

    Brief Fact Summary. The defendant is a mother of an infant who went on a crack binge and failed to care for her infant child who, as a result, died. Defendant was found guilty of second degree felony-murder and moves for an acquittal based on the argument that permitting a child to be a habitual sufferer is not an inherently dangerous felony.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The Supreme Court of Rhode Island holds that, for the purpose of determining whether a felony is inherently dangerous and therefore subject to the felony-murder rule, the fact finder should look at the facts of the particular case based on should determine whether the felony was inherently dangerous in the manner and circumstances it was committed.


    Facts. The defendant, Tracy Stewart, was the mother of an infant child who died from dehydration. Stewart had gone on a crack binge and had neglected to care for her child. She was charged with second degree felony-murder, the underlying felony being that she permitted a child to be a habitual sufferer. The defendant moves for an acquittal on the felony-murder charge, arguing that permitting a child to be a habitual sufferer is not an inherently dangerous felony and therefore cannot be the basis of a felony-murder charge.

    Issue. When determining whether a felony is inherently dangerous and therefore whether it is subject to the felony-murder rule, should the specific facts of the case be taken into account?

    Held. Yes. Motion for acquittal denied.
    The Supreme Court of Rhode Island holds that, for the purpose of determining whether a felony is inherently dangerous and therefore subject to the felony-murder rule, the fact finder should look at the facts of the particular case based on should determine whether the felony was inherently dangerous in the manner and circumstances it was committed.

    The rationale is that while a number of felonies, by their definition, are not inherently dangerous, they may be committed in such a manner as to make them inherently dangerous.


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    Discussion. Rhode Island looks at the specific facts of the case to determine whether a felony is inherently dangerous. Contrast that with the California approach as seen in People v. Phillips, 64 Cal. 2d 574 (1966), where the court looks only at the felony in the abstract and not the specific circumstances of each case in determining whether a felony is inherently dangerous.

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