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Law School Case Brief

State v. Contreras - 118 Nev. 332, 46 P.3d 661 (2002)

Rule:

It is not appropriate to apply the merger doctrine to felony murder when the underlying felony is burglary, regardless of the intent of the burglary.

Facts:

Defendant Jessica Evans was involved in an altercation at a motel. The police arrived and investigated that incident. Later that evening, apparently in retaliation for the previous altercation, Evans allegedly gathered defendant Julian C. Contreras and seven other co-defendants, and they proceeded back to the motel with metal and wooden clubs. Defendants knocked on a motel room door, and when the door opened, rushed into the room and proceeded to beat two victims; one victim died as a result of his injuries. In Nevada state court, the State charged defendants with open murder with the use of a deadly weapon, battery with the use of a deadly weapon, burglary, and conspiracy to commit battery. One of the two specified alternatives in the open murder charge was first-degree felony murder. At trial, defendants filed a motion to dismiss the first-degree felony murder charge based on the merger doctrine. The district court granted the motion, and the State appealed.

Issue:

Did the merger doctrine apply to the first-degree murder charge against defendants?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The state supreme court reversed the district court's order and remanded the matter for further proceedings. The court held that the district court was incorrect in dismissing the felony murder charge against defendants. It ruled that it was not appropriate to apply the merger doctrine to felony murder when the underlying felony was burglary, regardless of the intent of the burglary. Because the intent in both the underlying felony and the homicide was the same, application of the felony murder rule did not further the rule's intended purpose, that is, to prevent accidental or negligent killing, but rather, extended the rule unjustly.

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