People v. Farley

46 Cal. 4th 1053, 96 Cal. Rptr. 3d 191, 210 P.3d 361 (2009)

 

RULE:

In the context of second degree felony murder, courts must interpret the reference to an "abandoned and malignant heart" in Pen. Code, § 188. In the context of first degree felony murder, however, there is no need for interpretation of the Legislature's clear language. Thus, the differences between the statutory bases for first and second degree felony murder support the conclusion that although case law properly may limit the breadth of second degree felony murder in a manner consistent with judicial interpretation of the Legislature's intent, there is no room for interpretation when the Legislature has defined first degree felony murder to include any killing committed in the perpetration of, or attempt to perpetrate, burglary. Pen. Code, § 189. Because the power to define crimes lies exclusively with the Legislature, the decision in People v. Wilson (1969) 1 Cal.3d 431 erred in narrowing the Legislature's clear and specific definition of first degree murder.

FACTS:

Defendant entered the premises of his former employer, shot several victims, and destroyed property. The trial court denied a change of venue, excused some prospective jurors for cause, denied suppression motions, and instructed on felony murder based upon burglary allegations. The court held that defendant was not entitled to a change of venue because the media coverage was largely factual and the jurors stated that they could be impartial. Two prospective jurors were properly excused based on death penalty views. Other jurors properly were excused for media-related bias following the prosecutor's challenges for cause. Probable cause existed to search defendant's residence and vehicle, and the warrants had adequate particularity. No prejudicial evidentiary errors occurred. 

ISSUE:

Is a defendant entitled to a change of venue where media coverage was largely factual and jurors had stated that they could impartially decide the case?

ANSWER:

No.

CONCLUSION:

The Supreme Court affirmed the convictions, holding that defendant was not entitled to a change of venue because the media coverage was largely factual and the jurors stated that they could be impartial. Two prospective jurors were properly excused based on death penalty views. Other jurors properly were excused for media-related bias following the prosecutor's challenges for cause. Probable cause existed to search defendant's residence and vehicle, and the warrants had adequate particularity. No prejudicial evidentiary errors occurred. The felony murder instruction was proper because vandalism under Pen. Code, former § 594, subd. (b)(1), was a proper basis for burglary and assaults on the dead victims were not alleged as target offenses of the burglary. The court disapproved case law under Pen. Code, § 189, that had applied the felony-murder merger doctrine to first degree felony murder.

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