People v. Phillips
64 Cal.2d 524, 414 P.2d 553 (1966)

  • At the hospital, the parents of a child with cancer were told that surgery was the only effective treatment. However, Phillips (a chiropractor), convinced the parents that he could cure the child.
    • Phillips was a fraud and a quack. He charged the parents for his useless ‘treatments’ and the child died.
  • Phillips was arrested and charged with felony murder.
    • Felony murder is described as an inadvertent killing that occurs during the commission of another crime.
  • At Trial, the Judge instructed the jury that Phillips was guilty of second-degree murder if they found he had committed the felony of grand theft, and that the child died as a proximate result.
  • The Trial Court found Phillips guilty of second-degree murder. He appealed.
  • The California Supreme Court reversed and remanded for a new trial.
    • The California Supreme Court found that felony murder was only applicable to felonies that were “inherently dangerous to life and health.”
      • In this case, Phillips was accused of theft by deception, which is not a crime that normally gets people killed.
      • See Regina v. Serne (16 Cox Crim.Cas. 311 (1887)).
    • The Court found that felony murder is really a strict liability offense, and removes the requirement that Phillips had malice. Therefore it should only be applicable to cases in which the defendant was accused of a crime likely to cause death.
  • On remand, the prosecution argued that malice was established because of Phillips conscious disregard of the risk to the child. (aka depraved indifference).
    • Phillips was convicted of second-degree murder in the new trial.