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Name: People v. Cavitt
Case #: S105058
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 06/21/2004
Summary

Cavitt and coappellant Wiliams were convicted in separate trials of felony murder for killing Cavitt’s girlfriend’s stepmother while stealing valuables from her bedroom. The evidence at trial supported a finding that the defendants were the direct perpetrators of the murder. However, there was also evidence which supported the defense theory – that the girlfriend had suffocated the stepmother after the defendants had tied her up, stolen her property, and fled. Appellants contended on appeal that the felony-murder rule would not apply to that scenario, and the trial court’s instructions erroneously denied the jury the opportunity to consider their theory. The California Supreme Court granted review to clarify a nonkiller’s liability for a killing “committed in the perpetration ” of an inherently dangerous felony under the felony-murder rule. In this opinion, it held that 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 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. Applying those principles to the facts of this case, the convictions were affirmed. The jury was properly instructed concerning the continuous transaction rule. The defendants bound and gagged the victim during the burglary-robbery. There was no evidence that the girlfriend had formed the private intent to kill after the defendants had fled and reached a place of safety. Any error in the instructions would not have prejudiced them.