Felony-Murder Rule Cases In California

In People v. Smith (1984), the court had used the principles established in People v. Ireland (1969) to find the felony-murder rule would not apply because there was willful infliction of "unjustifiable physical pain on a child" in the assault that resulted in the death of a child, and "it would be wholly illogical to allow this kind of assaultive child abuse to be bootstrapped into felony murder merely because the victim was a child rather than an adult, as in Ireland." (People v. Smith, supra, 35 Cal. 3d at pp. 806-807.) The underlying felonious conduct is not independent of an assault that results in death, the killing is outside of the felony-murder rule. ( People v. Luparello (1986) 187 Cal. App. 3d 410, 436 231 Cal. Rptr. 832.) That being so, there was no duty for the court to instruct the jury on such rule as a lesser included offense of section 273ab. In People v. Ireland (1969), the Supreme Court restricted the scope of the felony-murder rule, declaring it inapplicable to those felonies that are an integral part of, and included in fact within, the homicide. (People v. Ireland, supra, 70 Cal. 2d at p. 539.) In People v. Burton (1971) 6 Cal. 3d 375 99 Cal. Rptr. 1, 491 P.2d 793, the Supreme Court revisited and refined the Ireland rule, noting that the felony-murder rule may nonetheless apply where the underlying felony is committed with an "independent felonious purpose." (People v. Burton, supra, 6 Cal. 3d at p. 387.) Thus, even where the underlying felony is included within the facts of the homicide and is an integral part thereof, further inquiry is needed to determine if the killing resulted "from conduct for an independent felonious purpose" rather than from a "single course of conduct with a single purpose." (Ibid.) In Ireland, the purpose of the defendant's conduct was "the very assault which resulted in death," whereas, there was an independent felonious purpose to acquire money or property belonging to another in Burton where the defendant attempted an armed robbery and killed one person in the process. (People v. Burton, supra, 6 Cal. 3d at p. 387.) Subsequently, when our Supreme Court again visited the merger rule of Ireland in People v. Hansen (1994) 9 Cal. 4th 300 36 Cal. Rptr. 2d 609, 885 P.2d 1022, it noted such rule has not been extended beyond the context of assault "even under circumstances in which the underlying felony plausibly could be characterized as 'an integral part of' and 'included in fact within' the resulting homicide." ( Id. at p. 312.) In so doing, however, the court specifically mentioned People v. Smith (1984) 35 Cal. 3d 798 201 Cal. Rptr. 311, 678 P.2d 886, which considered felony child abuse of the assaultive category, as an appropriate case where the merger rule of Ireland would apply.