Law School Case Brief
State v. Gyles - 313 So. 2d 799 (La. 1975)
The common law crime of murder, which proscribes the killing of a "human being," contemplates only the killing of those human beings who have been born alive and who thus have an existence independent of their mothers at the time of their death. The crime does not punish conduct which causes the death of a fetus not born alive due to an assault on the mother, in the absence of a statute expressly changing the common law definition of the crime.
Defendant Arthur Ray Gyles was charged with the murder of an unnamed male child. By appropriate pleadings, the particulars of the charge, as admitted by the State, were as follows. Gyles struck a pregnant woman with a stick and with his fist at about 2:30 A.M. on Sept. 20, 1974. A short time later, the woman began hemorrhaging and was taken to the hospital. At about 10:20 A.M., approximately eight hours after the beating, a male child was stillborn. At the time of the beating, the woman was eight months pregnant. Gyles was charged with murder in violation of La. R.S. 14:30.1. At trial in Louisiana state court, Gyles filed motion to quash the indictment, which was denied. Gyles was convicted of murder, and he was granted writs of certiorari, prohibition and mandamus.
Was Gyles properly charged with and convicted of murder in violation of § 14:30.1 for causing a miscarriage by striking a pregnant woman?
The state supreme court reversed the trial court's judgment, sustained Gyles' motion to quash the indictment, and dismissed the prosecution. The court held that inflicting injury upon a pregnant woman that caused a miscarriage or a stillbirth did not constitute the statutory crime of murder proscribed by § 14:30.1. Under the uniform American and common law jurisprudence, Gyles' conduct was not punishable as a "murder" under the definition of that crime in the Louisiana statutes and those of other jurisdictions. An act against a pregnant woman that prevented the fetus from being born alive was simply not conduct proscribed by the legal definition of the crime of murder in the absence of an express statute so providing. The court held that until the legislature provided otherwise, the crime of "murder" did not proscribe conduct thatcaused an unborn child to be born dead.
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