People v. Stewart
663 A.2d 912 (1995)

  • Stewart had a newborn baby and an addiction to drugs. She went on a bender and forgot to feed the baby for a few days. The baby died.
  • Stewart was arrested and charged with murder.
  • Stewart made a motion to dismiss, on the grounds that she did not intentionally kill her baby.
    • The prosecutor argued that the baby died during the commission of a felony (child neglect), and that killings that occur during the commission of another felony are felony murder.
  • The Trial Judge denied the motion to dismiss. Stewart appealed.
    • Stewart claimed that felony murder can only be found when the initial felony is “inherently dangerous.”
      • Steward argued that based on some California cases, the court is to look at the felony in the abstract (without considering the specifics of the case). If it is possible to commit the felony and not endanger human life, then the felony is not “inherently dangerous.”
        • It is possible to neglect your baby without killing him, therefore, according to Stewart, her felony was not “inherently dangerous” and could not be used to sustain a charge of felony murder.
  • The Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed.
    • The Rhode Island Supreme Court found that the proper thing to consider was whether the felony was “inherently dangerous as committed.”
      • Basically, unlike California, the Court here is saying that the jury is to look at the specific elements of the felony and determine if that felony as committed was likely to result in death. If so, then a charge of felony murder could be sustained.