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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Monday, February 14, 2005

Interesting New Cases

California:  Killing Nonviable Fetus is Murder
An appellate court in California held last week in People v. Valdez, C036614, that the killing of a nonviable fetus constitutes murder under California law.  The California legislature had included "fetuses" within its list of victims in its murder statute.  The defendants argued, however, that because the fetus had a serious medical condition and would not have survived until birth, punishing the defendant for murder would violate the cruel and unusual punishment clause, and would be "so disproportionate to the crime for which it is inflicted that it shocks the conscience and offends fundamental notions of human dignity."  The court responded:  "As we have noted, our state's Legislature made a policy decision to protect fetal life in the same manner as the life of a human being, except where the mother's paramount privacy interests are at stake. In light of the state's legitimate interest in protecting fetal life, we cannot say that it is grossly disproportionate, or that it shocks the conscience or offends fundamental notions of human dignity, to punish as murder the unlawful killing of a fetus which, due to a physical or medical condition, may not otherwise survive until birth. In other words, construing California's murder statute to apply to the killing of "a non-survivable fetus" does not violate the cruel and/or unusual punishment clauses of the state and federal Constitutions."

Fourth Circuit:  Avoiding Checkpoint in Evasive Manner Creates RS
The Fourth Circuit held in U.S. v. Smith, 04-4311, and here, that reasonable suspicion was created when a driver appeared to slam on his breaks and then pulled into a private driveway when approaching a driver's license checkpoint.  The driver pulled only halfway up the long driveway and stopped, which made it appear to the officers that the driver was not intending to visit the home.  The case provides a good summary of the law, and discusses numerous decisions from other circuits, on the issue of when avoiding a checkpoint can give rise to reasonable suspicion.  [Mark Godsey]

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