UC Law Journal


Gina LiMandri


In 1983, the California Supreme Court ruled that a finding of intent to kill was required for the imposition of capital punishment on felony murderers under the California death penalty initiative. When reviewing the initiative, the court employed the traditional method of statutory interpretation, which requires a court to focus on the statutory language itself and on the historical context in which the statute was passed. Four years later in People v. Anderson, however, the court overruled its interpretation of the death penalty initiative and held that intent to kill was not an element of the felony murder special circumstance as applied to the actual murderer. Instead of using the traditional method of statutory interpretation, the Anderson court adopted a "realistic" standard, which allowed it to consider the current social and political climate in California. This Note examines both the traditional and realistic methods of statutory interpretation and concludes that the realistic method may be detrimental to the criminal justice system if used without caution. In order to curb the negative effects of the realistic method of statutory interpretation, this Note proposes five conditions that should be met prior to the use of this model.

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