Meadows v. State, No. CR

CourtSupreme Court of Arkansas
Writing for the CourtDUDLEY; HAYS; HAYS
Citation722 S.W.2d 584,291 Ark. 105
PartiesRobert Keith MEADOWS, Appellant, v. STATE of Arkansas, Appellee. 86-166.
Docket NumberNo. CR
Decision Date26 January 1987

Page 584

722 S.W.2d 584
291 Ark. 105
Robert Keith MEADOWS, Appellant,
v.
STATE of Arkansas, Appellee.
No. CR 86-166.
Supreme Court of Arkansas.
Jan. 26, 1987.

[291 Ark. 107] Terry L. Crabtree, Public Defender by N. Michael Yarbrough, Assist. Public Defender, Bentonville, for appellant.

Page 585

Steve Clark, Atty. Gen., by Clint Miller, Asst. Atty. Gen., Little Rock, for appellee.

DUDLEY, Justice.

The principal issue in this case is whether an unborn viable fetus is a "person" as that term is used in the manslaughter statute. There is little dispute about the facts. The appellant, while intoxicated, drove his car in a reckless manner, veered across the center line of the highway and struck an oncoming car being driven by Randy Waldrip. As a result, Randy Waldrip was killed and an unborn viable fetus, carried by Vanessa Weicht, a passenger in appellant's car, was also killed. The appellant was charged with, and convicted of, two counts of manslaughter; one for killing Randy Waldrip and the other for killing the unborn fetus.

Appellant's first argument is that reckless killing of an unborn viable fetus is not included within the purview of the manslaughter statute. The argument has merit. Our statute provides that one commits manslaughter if he "recklessly causes the death of another person." Ark.Stat.Ann. § 41-1504(1)(c) (Repl.1977). The word "person" is not defined.

The applicable rule of construction is that the common law in force at the time the statute was passed is to be taken into account in construing undefined words of the statute. State v. Pierson, 44 Ark. 265 (1884). The quoted statute, which is a part of the Criminal Code, was enacted in 1975, while a pre-code manslaughter statute goes back to the revised statutes which became effective in 1839. Ark.Stat.Ann. § 41-2201 and § 41-2209 (Repl.1964). The revised statute used the term "human being" rather than the presently used "person," but the terms are synonymous in common law.

In ascertaining the common law, we look not only to our own cases, but to early English cases, early writers on the common law, and cases from other states. Ark.Stat.Ann. § 1-101 (Repl.1976); Baker v. State, 215 Ark. 851, 223 S.W.2d 809 (1949). In so looking, we find that at common law, in both 1839 and in 1975, [291 Ark. 108] an unborn fetus was not included within the definition of a "person" or "human being," and therefore, the killing of a viable unborn child was not murder. Rex v. Brain, 6 Carr. & P. 349, 172 Eng.Rep. 1272 (1834); Rex v. Sellis, 7 Carr. & P. 850, 173 Eng.Rep. 370 (1836); and Rex v. Crutchley, 7 Carr. & P. 814, 173 Eng.Rep. 355 (1836); Clarke v. State, 117 Ala. 1, 23 So. 671 (1898); Keeler v. Superior Court, 2 Cal.3d 619, 625-27, 87 Cal.Rptr. 481, 470 P.2d 617, 40 A.L.R.3d 420 (1970); Ranger v. State, 249 Ga. 315, 290 S.E.2d 63 (1982); People v. Greer, 79 Ill.2d 103, 37 Ill.Dec. 313, 402 N.E.2d 203 (1980); State v. Winthrop, 43 Iowa 519 (1876); Hollis v. Commonwealth, 652 S.W.2d 61 (Ky.1983); State v. Gyles, 313 So.2d 799 (La.1975); People v. Guthrie, 97 Mich.App. 226, 293 N.W.2d 775 (1980); State in the Interest of A.W.S., 182 N.J.Super. 278, 440 A.2d 1144 (1981); State v. Willis, 98 N.M. 771, 652 P.2d 1222 (N.M.App.1982); People v. Hayner, 300 N.Y. 171, 90 N.E.2d 23 (1949); State v. Sogge, 36 N.D. 262, 161 N.W. 1022 (N.D.1917); State v. Dickinson, 28 Ohio St.2d 65, 275 N.E.2d 599 (1971); State v. Amaro, 448 A.2d 1257 (R.I.1982); Harris v. State, 28 Tex.App. 308, 12 S.W. 1102 (1889); State v. Larsen, 578 P.2d 1280 (Utah 1978); Bennett v. State, 377 P.2d 634 (Wyo.1963); Annot., 40 A.L.R.3d 444 (1971). State ex. rel. Atkinson v. Wilson, 332 S.E.2d 807 (W.Va.1984). See also W. LaFave & A. Scott, Criminal Law § 67 (1972); 2 W. LaFave & A. Scott, Substantive Criminal Law § 7.1(c) (1986); R. Perkins & R. Boyce, Criminal Law § 1B (3d ed. 1982); 2 C. Torcia, Wharton's Criminal Law § 114 (14th ed. 1979); F. Bailey & H. Rothblatt, Crimes of Violence: Homicide and Assault § 576 (1973); 40 Am.Jur.2d Homicide § 9; and 40 C.J.S. Homicide § 2(b).

In its brief the State acknowledges that the common law is as set out above, but urges us to alter it. Thus, the critical issue is whether a court ought to create a new common law crime.

In their book entitled Criminal Law, supra, at 57-69, LaFave and Scott discuss

Page 586

at length the issue of whether courts can create new common law crimes. They indicate that the modern view finds diminished authority for courts doing so. They conclude:

It is only natural that judges should create crimes from general principles in medieval England, because such [291 Ark. 109] legislature as there was sat only infrequently and legislation was scanty. Today in the United States, as in modern England, the various legislatures meet regularly. The principal original reason for common law crimes has therefore disappeared.

We have recently said, "It is well settled that it is for the legislative branch of a state or federal government to determine the kind of conduct that constitutes a crime and the nature and extent of the punishment which may be imposed." Sparrow v. State, 284 Ark. 396, 397, 683 S.W.2d 218 (1985).

There are two fundamental policy reasons which make it appropriate for this Court to defer the creation of new crimes to the legislature. First, aside from having the primary authority to create new crimes, the General Assembly is composed of members, proportioned according to population and geography, who are elected at more frequent intervals than are members of this Court. The General Assembly is more closely attuned and more representative of the public will than is this Court. Second, the General Assembly has committees which conduct hearings in a non-adversary manner in order to anticipate all factual situations which may prospectively occur, and it is able to make more distinctions as to the degrees of offenses and to graduate the penalties to match the severity of the offenses. This Court would be limited to making a ruling solely on the adversarily developed facts before it. State ex rel. Atkinson v. Wilson, 332 S.E.2d 807, 810 (W.Va.1984); Aldisert, The Nature of the Judicial Process: Revisited, 49 U.Cin.L.Rev. 1 (1980). Accordingly, we decline to create a new common law crime by judicial fiat, but, instead, defer to the legislative branch.

The highest courts of our sister states overwhelmingly agree with our philosophy. Twenty-four states have held, under facts similar to the ones at bar, they would not create new common law crimes. See, e.g. : Clarke v. State, 117 Ala. 1, 23 So. 671 (1898); Keeler v. Superior Court, 2 Cal.3d 619, 87 Cal.Rptr. 481, 470 P.2d 617 (1970); State v. McCall, 458 So.2d 875 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App.1984); White v. State, 238 Ga. 224, 232 S.E.2d 57 (1977); People v. Greer, 79 Ill.2d 103, 37 Ill.Dec. 313, 402 N.E.2d 203 (1980); Hollis v. Commonwealth, 652 S.W.2d 61 (Ky.1983); State v. Gyles, 313 So.2d 799 (La.1975); Smith v. State, 33 Me. [291 Ark. 110] 48 (1851); People v. Guthrie, 97 Mich.App. 226, 293 N.W.2d 775; State v. Soto, 378 N.W.2d 625 (Minn.1985); State v. Doyle, 205 Neb. 234, 287 N.W.2d 59 (1980); State in the Interest of A.W.S., 182 N.J.Super. 278, 440 A.2d 1144 (N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div.1981); State v. Willis, 98 N.M. 771, 652 P.2d 1222 (N.M.Ct.App.1982); People v. Hayner, 300 N.Y. 171, 90 N.E.2d 23 (1949); State v. Sogge, 36 N.D. 262, 161 N.W. 1022 (1917); State v. Dickinson, 28 Ohio St.2d 65, 275 N.E.2d 599 (1971); State v. McGee [McKee], 1 Add. 1 (Pa.1791); State v. Amaro, 448 A.2d 1257 (R.I.1982); Morgan v. State, 148 Tenn. 417, 256 S.W. 433 (1923); Harris v. State, 28 Tex.App. 308, 12 S.W. 1102 (Tex.1889); State v. Larsen, 578 P.2d 1280 (Utah 1978); Lane v. Commonwealth, 219 Va. 509, 248 S.E.2d 781 (1978); Huebner v. State, 131 Wis. 162, 111 N.W. 63 (1907); Bennett v. State, 377 P.2d 634 (Wyo.1963). On the other hand, only two states have created a new common law crime under facts similar to those of the case at bar. In its brief the State asks us to follow the holding of those two states. We decline to do so. In State v. Horne, 282 S.C. 444, 319 S.E.2d 703 (1984), the South Carolina court, without discussing its power to create a new common law crime, prospectively held that the murder of a viable unborn fetus would be a crime. In Commonwealth v. Cass, 392 Mass. 799, 467 N.E.2d 1324 (1984), the...

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21 practice notes
  • People v. Davis, No. S033327
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • May 16, 1994
    ...In those jurisdictions a live birth remains a prerequisite to a conviction of homicide. (See Meadows v. State (1987) 291 Ark. 105, 722 S.W.2d 584, 585-586, citing numerous cases; for later cases, see, e.g., Billingsley v. State (Ct.1987) 183 Ga.App. 850, 360 S.E.2d 451, 452; State v. Keller......
  • Com. v. Booth
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • February 20, 2001
    ...P.2d 1222, 1222 (Ct.App.1982); Dickinson, 275 N.E.2d at 601; State v. Larsen, 578 P.2d 1280, 1281 (Utah 1978). 10. See Meadows v. State, 291 Ark. 105, 722 S.W.2d 584, 585 (1987); Anonymous, 516 A.2d at 158; Billingsley, 360 S.E.2d at 452; Jones v. Commonwealth, 830 S.W.2d 877, 880 (Ky.1992)......
  • Vo v. Superior Court In and For County of Maricopa, No. 1
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Arizona
    • January 30, 1992
    ...the legislature. See, e.g., Clarke v. State, 117 Ala. 1, 23 So. 671 (1898) (recognizing "born-alive" rule for homicide); Meadows v. State, 291 Ark. 105, 722 S.W.2d 584 (1987) (not a "person"; manslaughter); Keeler v. Superior Court, 2 Cal.3d 619, 87 Cal.Rptr. 481, 470 P.2d 617 (1970) (not a......
  • State Of Conn. v. Courchesne, No. 17174.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • June 15, 2010
    ...them to be such, and to be obligatory upon the citizens as necessary rules of construction and justice”); see also Meadows v. State, 291 Ark. 105, 107, 722 S.W.2d 584 (1987) (“[i]n ascertaining the common law, we look not only to our own cases, but to early English cases, early writers on t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
21 cases
  • People v. Davis, No. S033327
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • May 16, 1994
    ...In those jurisdictions a live birth remains a prerequisite to a conviction of homicide. (See Meadows v. State (1987) 291 Ark. 105, 722 S.W.2d 584, 585-586, citing numerous cases; for later cases, see, e.g., Billingsley v. State (Ct.1987) 183 Ga.App. 850, 360 S.E.2d 451, 452; State v. Keller......
  • Com. v. Booth
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • February 20, 2001
    ...P.2d 1222, 1222 (Ct.App.1982); Dickinson, 275 N.E.2d at 601; State v. Larsen, 578 P.2d 1280, 1281 (Utah 1978). 10. See Meadows v. State, 291 Ark. 105, 722 S.W.2d 584, 585 (1987); Anonymous, 516 A.2d at 158; Billingsley, 360 S.E.2d at 452; Jones v. Commonwealth, 830 S.W.2d 877, 880 (Ky.1992)......
  • Vo v. Superior Court In and For County of Maricopa, No. 1
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Arizona
    • January 30, 1992
    ...the legislature. See, e.g., Clarke v. State, 117 Ala. 1, 23 So. 671 (1898) (recognizing "born-alive" rule for homicide); Meadows v. State, 291 Ark. 105, 722 S.W.2d 584 (1987) (not a "person"; manslaughter); Keeler v. Superior Court, 2 Cal.3d 619, 87 Cal.Rptr. 481, 470 P.2d 617 (1970) (not a......
  • State Of Conn. v. Courchesne, No. 17174.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • June 15, 2010
    ...them to be such, and to be obligatory upon the citizens as necessary rules of construction and justice”); see also Meadows v. State, 291 Ark. 105, 107, 722 S.W.2d 584 (1987) (“[i]n ascertaining the common law, we look not only to our own cases, but to early English cases, early writers on t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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