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Name: People v. Drew
Case #: G052949
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 08/29/2017

Defendant’s failure to summon aid for unconscious rape victim, while keeping her confined, established proximate cause for victim’s death. Drew sexually assaulted a woman who was in a diabetic coma. Within two hours of the assault, the woman died of diabetic ketoacidosis. The experts agreed that the sex crimes did not contribute to the woman’s death, but stated that timely medical assistance could have saved her life. However, Drew had the woman confined in his motel room and failed to seek medical assistance for her, knowing she was in critical condition. Drew was convicted of felony murder with special circumstances and sentenced to LWOP. On appeal, he challenged the sufficiency of the evidence that his acts proximately caused the woman’s death. Held: Affirmed. Proximate cause is a universal factor common to all legal liability. So long as the jury determines that without the criminal act the death would not have occurred when it did, proximate cause is established whether or not concurrent causes exist. All that is required is that the cause be a substantial factor contributing to the result. Drew did not just commit a sexual assault on an unconscious woman, he also kept her secluded in a motel room and failed to call 911 for fear the police would question him about her condition. The evidence showing the woman could have survived if treated was sufficient to support the jury’s determination that Drew’s failure to summon aid was a substantial factor in the woman’s death.

There was sufficient evidence of causation to meet the requirements of the felony murder rule. Penal Code section 189 provides that all murder committed in the course of one of the statutorily enumerated felonies, including the offenses committed by Drew, is murder of the first degree, whether the homicide is intentional, negligent, or accidental. For purposes of the rule, the duration of the underlying felony extends until the time the defendant has reached a place of temporary safety. Therefore, a defendant may be convicted of felony murder for a fatality that occurs after the underlying felony has been completed if there is a sufficient nexus between the defendant’s felonious acts and the victim’s death. This requires a “logical nexus” between the felony and the homicidal act and a temporal relationship which establishes that the felony and the homicidal act were part of one continuous transaction. Here, the sexual assaults and Drew’s failure to seek help for the woman were connected by time and space. Further, the assaults and death were part of a continuous transaction because the woman died within two hours of the assaults, during which time Drew kept her confined and failed to summon help. Thus, the sex crimes, while physically complete, were still ongoing for purposes of assessing Drew’s liability under the felony murder rule.

The felony murder special circumstance did not require evidence that Drew killed in order to advance his sex crimes. Drew challenged the felony murder special circumstance finding because there was no evidence he killed the woman in order to commit his sex crimes. Under the special circumstance statute, the punishment for first degree murder is death or LWOP if the jury finds the murder was committed while the defendant was engaged in the commission of certain enumerated felonies, including the crimes in this case. (Pen. Code, § 190.2, subd. (a)(17)(C), (D), (F) & (K).) The special circumstance cannot be applied when the felony is merely incidental to the killing. (People v. Green (1980) 27 Cal.3d 1.) But this does not mean the special circumstance can only be applied when there is evidence the killing was committed to advance an independent felonious purpose. It only requires the defendant to have a felonious purpose that is independent from the killing. Here, the record shows Drew committed his sex crimes for reasons independent of the killing, i.e., his own sexual gratification, which is sufficient to support the special circumstance finding.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: