People v. Howard

The Facts

Defendant fled from a routine traffic stop at speeds of 90 mph.  He ran two stop signs, a red light, and drove on the opposite side of the road.  The chase went from rural California to downtown Fresno.  Defendant’s car then collided with another, killing the victim.  Defendant had stolen the car he was driving earlier in the day.


“Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, with malice aforethought.  But under the second degree felony-murder rule, the prosecution can obtain a conviction without showing malice if the killing occurred during the commission of an inherently dangerous felony.”

“In determining whether a felony is inherently dangerous, the court looks to the elements of the felony in the abstract, not in the particular facts of the case, i.e., not to the defendant’s specific conduct.”

The Issue

Whether the driving with a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others while fleeing from police is an inherently dangerous felony for purposes of second degree felony murder.

The Holding

No.  Fleeing from police is not an inherently dangerous felony in the abstract.  The prosecution may very well convict the defendant of murder, but he will have to show an element of malice.  The jury may very well find that defendant acted with malice by driving in the manner he did, and consequently should be guilty of murder.  The ruling simply shows that because the crime of fleeing from police is not inherently dangerous in the abstract, the element of malice must be proven at trial.


One who eludes police drives with reckless indifferent to the safety of others is committing an inherently dangerous felony in the abstract.  Society has declared that certain felonies are so dangerous that they should be felonies.  Because it is a felony, the conduct is inherently dangerous.  The purpose of the rule “is to deter those engaged in felonies from killing negligently or accidentally.”

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