Habeas petitioner who was convicted of second degree felony murder based on the death of an accomplice arising out of the felonious manufacture of methamphetamine was not entitled to reversal of his conviction based on Johnson v. United States (2015) 576 U.S. ___ [135 S.Ct. 2551]. In 2000, White was convicted of second degree felony murder for the death of an accomplice arising out of the felonious manufacture of methamphetamine. After the Supreme Court decided Johnson, White filed a habeas petition challenging the constitutionality of California’s second degree felony murder rule. Held: Petition denied. In Johnson, the Supreme Court evaluated the residual clause of the federal Armed Career Criminal Act and concluded the clause was unconstitutionally vague. After analyzing Johnson and comparing the residual clause and California’s second degree felony murder rule, the Court of Appeal concluded Johnson’s analysis was not implicated in petitioner’s case. California’s pre-2019 second degree felony murder rule looks to the elements of the offense in the abstract, not the particular facts of the case, to determine whether a felony is inherently dangerous. This finding can be supported by expert testimony or other evidence when the danger claimed to be inherent in the elements is a matter of scientific, medical, or technological expertise. In this case, there was expert testimony that the steps required to illicitly manufacture methamphetamine are inherently dangerous. Also, a prior published decision held the felonious manufacture of methamphetamine qualified as an inherently dangerous felony for the second degree murder rule. (People v. James (1998) 62 Cal.App.4th 244). Thus, the qualitative standard of “inherently dangerous to human life” was established by real-world conduct and concrete expert evidence regarding the nature of the offense. This avoids the unpredictability and arbitrariness that the Johnson court found in the residual clause.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/archive/E068801.PDF