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Law School Case Brief

People v. Hansen - 9 Cal. 4th 300, 36 Cal. Rptr. 2d 609, 885 P.2d 1022 (1994)

Rule:

The courts have restricted the felonies that could support a conviction of second degree murder, based upon a felony-murder theory, to those felonies that are "inherently dangerous to human life," explaining that the justification for the imputation of implied malice under these circumstances is that, when society has declared certain inherently dangerous conduct to be felonious, a defendant should not be allowed to excuse himself by saying he was unaware of the danger to life.

Facts:

Defendant Michael Hansen, during a drug purchase, gave money to the resident of a duplex dwelling. After failing to receive drugs in return, Hansen fired several shots into the dwelling. One of the bullets hit a 13-year-old girl in the head killing her. The jury convicted Hansen of second degree murder, and found true the allegation of personal use of a firearm during the commission of that offense, Cal. Pen. Code § 12022.5(a). The jury also found Hansen guilty of discharging a firearm at an inhabited dwelling house, Pen. Code, § 246. The trial court had instructed the jury on several theories of murder, including second degree felony murder as an unlawful killing that occurs during the commission or attempted commission of a felony inherently dangerous to human life, and further instructed that the felony of shooting at an inhabited dwelling is inherently dangerous to human life. The California Court of Appeal affirmed the conviction of second degree murder, but struck the firearm-use enhancement. The State sought further appellate review.

Issue:

Did the appellate court err in striking out the firearm use enhancement in defendant’s conviction?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of California reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeal to the extent that it struck the firearm-use enhancement. The Court held that the offense under Pen. Code, § 246, of discharging a firearm at an inhabited dwelling house, was an inherently dangerous felony for purposes of the second degree felony-murder rule. The discharge of a firearm at an "inhabited" dwelling house--by statutory definition, a dwelling "currently being used for dwelling purposes, whether occupied or not"--was a felony the commission of which inherently involves a danger to human life. According to the Court, the said offense did not "merge" with a resulting homicide within the meaning of the Supreme Court doctrine that the felony-murder rule was not applicable where the only underlying felony was assault, and, therefore, the offense under Pen. Code, § 246, will support a conviction of second degree felony murder. The use of certain inherently dangerous felonies, including the discharge of a firearm at an inhabited dwelling house, as the predicate felony supporting application of the felony-murder rule will not elevate all felonious assaults to murder or otherwise subvert the legislative intent behind the rule.

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