People v. James

62 Cal. App. 4th 244, 74 Cal. Rptr. 2d 7 (1998)



Implied malice, like all other elements of a crime, may be proven by circumstantial evidence.


A jury found a woman guilty of three counts of second degree murder, manufacturing methamphetamine, and conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine. The jury expressly based each of the murder verdicts on both implied malice and second degree felony murder. While the woman was manufacturing methamphetamine in her trailer home, a chemical caught fire, resulting in the destruction of the trailer and the deaths of three of her children. The case was appealed to the Court of Appeal of California.


Was the conviction proper?




The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that manufacturing methamphetamine is an inherently dangerous felony for purposes of the second degree felony-murder rule, and that there was substantial evidence defendant acted with implied malice. In reaching its conclusion the court examined the processes used in the manufacturing of methamphetamine and noted the hazardous materials used and potential fires that could occur. Cases were noted where warrantless searches of places suspected to contain methamphetamine labs were permitted due to the exigent circumstance of immediate danger. Furthermore, the determination that manufacturing methamphetamine was inherently dangerous was a matter of law and it was proper for the trial court to so instruct the jury. Finally, the determination that manufacture of methamphetamine was an inherently dangerous felony did not violate due process as the holding was not unexpected or unforeseeable.

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