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People v. James

    Brief Fact Summary.

    James (defendant) was charged with second degree murder after her trailer exploded while she was making methamphetamine, killing three of her children.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    In order for a defendant to be charged under the second degree felony murder rule, the felony they were committing must have been one that was inherently dangerous.

    Facts.

    James’ main source of income to support her family was manufacturing methamphetamine (meth) in their mobile home. As she was “cooking” the meth one day, a dangerous chemical caught fire, which resulted in the mobile home being destroyed, killing her three children, and she was ultimately charged with second degree murder along with other various charges related to the meth. James testified that none of the chemicals had ever caught fire before and she had taken various precautions including cooking the meth on a hot plate in a locked bathroom, to ensure such an event would not take place. James admitted to using various dangerous chemicals but denied they presented any danger to the family or the home. However, a hot plate can still cause the chemicals to ignite and regardless, her son testified James had been making meth in the kitchen when the fire began. The jury found James guilty of second degree murder and James appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether for a defendant to be charged under the second degree felony murder rule, the felony they were committing must have been one that was inherently dangerous.

    Held.

    Yes. for a defendant to be charged under the second degree felony murder rule, the felony they were committing must have been one that was inherently dangerous.

    Discussion.

    In order for a trial court to determine whether a felony is one which is inherently dangerous they must consider the general offense and the elements that accompany it and not the defendants specific conduct. In California, an inherently dangerous felony is defined as one that cannot be done without the high probability that someone may die as a result of the felony. Accordingly, manufacturing meth constitutes an inherently dangerous felony. Manufacturing meth requires using various volatile chemicals and these chemicals are easily flammable, regardless where you cook the meth. Manufacturing meth in the mobile home created a substantial risk of death. Thus, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.


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