People v. Cavitt

33 Cal. 4th 187, 14 Cal. Rptr. 3d 281, 91 P.3d 222 (2004)



Regarding a nonkiller's liability for a killing committed in the perpetration of an inherently dangerous felony under Cal. Penal Code § 189's felony-murder rule, in such circumstances, the felony-murder rule requires both a causal relationship and a temporal relationship between the underlying felony and the act resulting in death. The causal relationship is established by proof of a logical nexus, beyond mere coincidence of time and place, between the homicidal act and the underlying felony the nonkiller committed or attempted to commit. The temporal relationship is established by proof the felony and the homicidal act were part of one continuous transaction.


Defendants were convicted in separate trials of the felony murder of the stepmother of the girlfriend of one of the defendants. Defendants admitted to plotting with the stepdaughter to enter the victim's home, to tie her up, and to steal her property. The plan went forward with defendants entering the home, throwing a sheet over the victim's head and binding it and her with rope and duct tape, beating her and leaving her facedown on the bed, and escaping with guns, jewelry and other valuables. Before leaving, defendants tied up the stepdaughter to make it appear she was a victim as well. The victim died of asphyxiation. There was ample evidence that defendants were the direct perpetrators of the murder, but there was also evidence that the stepdaughter may have suffocated her stepmother, for reasons independent of the burglary-robbery, after defendants had escaped. On appeal, the Court of Appeal affirmed the convictions. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of California.


May a burglary/robbery among joint perpetrators give rise to felony murder responsibility where one perpetrator, due to animosity toward their victim, killed the victim after the others' involvement had been completed?




The Court held even if the stepdaughter had killed her stepmother out of a private animus after the defendants escaped, there was sufficient evidence of a logical nexus between the burglary-robbery and the murder to hold the two non-killing defendants liable for felony murder. The victim was covered in a sheet, beaten, hog-tied with rope and tape, and left facedown on a bed. Her breathing was labored at the time defendants departed. These acts either asphyxiated the victim in themselves or left her unable to resist the murderous impulses of her stepdaughter. The logical nexus standard of felony-murder liability does not require that the killer intend the homicidal act to aid or promote the felony. Although the record supported a finding that defendants and/or the stepdaughter intended to eliminate the sole witness to the burglary-robbery, evidence that she died accidentally as a result of being bound and gagged during the burglary-robbery was sufficient logical nexus to support the judgment as well.

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