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Name: People v. Billa
Case #: C037717
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 3 DCA
Opinion Date: 10/03/2002
Subsequent History: Rev. granted 1/22/03: S111341

Appellant and two accomplices set fire to appellant’s truck in a plan to collect insurance. One of the accomplices was severely burned and later died. Appellant was convicted of second degree murder as well as arson and insurance fraud. On appeal, he argued that he could not be liable for murder based on the accidental death of an accomplice to arson under People v. Ferlin (1928) 203 Cal. 587 and decisions which have followed. The appellate court here affirmed. The Ferlin rule does not apply to the facts of this case. Because appellant was a present and active participant in the arson which caused the death, he was liable under the felony-murder rule. Ferlin’s distinguishing factors were that Ferlin was neither present nor actively participated in the arson, the accomplice acted alone, and the accomplice killed himself. Appellant also argued that he was not subject to the felony-murder rule because arson of property is not inherently dangerous. The appellate court also rejected that argument, finding that any maliciously set fire is inherently dangerous. Finally, appellant argued that the merger doctrine prevented the application of the felony-murder rule in this case. The appellate court rejected that argument, finding that there was no suggestion that appellant had burned the truck in order to cause an injury, and therefore the merger rule did not apply.