Circuit Court, CC-12-858; Court of Criminal Appeals,
PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF
writ of certiorari is quashed.
quashing the writ of certiorari, this Court does not wish to
be understood as approving all the language, reasons, or
statements of law in the Court of Criminal Appeals'
opinion. Horsley v. Horsley, 291 Ala. 782, 280 So.2d
Stuart, C.J., and Parker, Main, Wise, Bryan, and Sellers,
Murdock, J., dissents.
Justice (concurring specially).
concur to quash the writ of certiorari issued in this case.
facts of this case are thoroughly discussed in the Court of
Criminal Appeals' opinion in Contreras v. State,
[Ms. CR-14-0980, July 8, 2016] ___ So.3d ___
(Ala.Crim.App.2016), and in Justice Murdock's dissent.
For the purposes of this writing, it is sufficient to note
that the defendant, Ramiro Delreal Contreras, was accused of
killing the four-year-old daughter of his girlfriend.
Specifically, the child suffered an abdominal injury caused
by blunt-force trauma that resulted in a lacerated liver and
the severing of her small intestine, which ultimately
resulted in her death.
was convicted under Ala. Code 1975, § 13A-6-2(a)(3), of
felony murder. The version of that Code section applicable at
the time of trial in this case stated:
"(a) A person commits the crime of murder if he or she
does any of the following:
"(3) He or she commits or attempts to commit arson in
the first degree, burglary in the first or second degree,
escape in the first degree, kidnapping in the first degree,
rape in the first degree, robbery in any degree, sodomy in
the first degree, any other felony clearly dangerous to
human life and, in the course of and in furtherance of
the crime that he or she is committing or attempting to
commit, or in immediate flight therefrom, he or she, or
another participant if there be any, causes the death of any
(Emphasis added.) The "other felony" underlying
Contreras's conviction was predicated on the crime of
aggravated child abuse set out in Ala. Code 1975, §
26-15-3.1: "A responsible person, as defined in [Ala.
Code 1975, §] 26-15-2, commits the crime of aggravated
child abuse if he or she ... violates the provisions of
Section 26-15-3 which causes serious physical injury ... to
the child." A responsible person is defined as "[a]
child's natural parent, stepparent, adoptive parent,
legal guardian, custodian, or any other person who has the
permanent or temporary care or custody or responsibility for
the supervision of a child." Ala. Code 1975, §
26-15-2. A person violates Ala. Code 1975, § 26-15-3, if
he or she "torture[s], willfully abuse[s], cruelly
beat[s], or otherwise willfully maltreat[s] any child under
the age of 18 years."
appeal before the Court of Criminal Appeals, Contreras
challenged his felony-murder conviction on the basis that,
under the "merger doctrine" explained in
Barnett v. State, 783 So.2d 927 (Ala.Crim.App.2000),
aggravated child abuse could not serve as the underlying
felony for purposes of a felony-murder conviction.
Barnett explains the merger doctrine as follows:
"'We have concluded that the utilization of the
felony-murder rule in circumstances such as those before us[,
a felonious assault, ] extends the operation of [the
felony-murder] rule "beyond any rational function it is
designed to serve." (People v. Washington
(1965) 62 Cal. 2d 777, 783, 44 Cal.Rptr. 442, 446, 402 P.2d
130, 134.) To allow such use of the felony-murder rule
would effectively preclude the jury from considering the
issue of malice aforethought in all cases wherein
homicide has been committed as a result of a felonious
assault--a category which includes the great majority of all
homicides. This kind of bootstrapping finds support neither
in logic nor in law.'"
Barnett, 783 So.2d at 929 (quoting People v.
Ireland, 70 Cal. 2d 522');">70 Cal. 2d 522, 529, 450 P.2d 580, 590, 75
Cal.Rptr. 188, 198 (1969)). The court in Barnett
reasoned that, if the State could convict a defendant for
murder or manslaughter merely by proving the requisite intent
for assault, as opposed to the requisite intent for murder or
manslaughter, then the Code sections establishing the crimes
of murder and manslaughter would essentially be eliminated, a
result the legislature did not intend. See 783 So.2d at 930
("If prosecutors could prove murder by proving the
intent element of assault as opposed to the requisite mens
rea for murder or manslaughter, §§ 13A-6-2(a)(1)
and (2), 13A-6-2(b), and 13A-6-3, Ala. Code 1975[, ] would
effectively be eliminated. Clearly, such a result would be
contrary to legislative intent."). Further, the
Barnett court expressed its belief that the
legislature could not have intended such an absurd and harsh
not discussed in Barnett, a holding that the
language of § 13A-6-2(a)(3) created an absurd result, in
my opinion, would be a prerequisite to rejecting the plain
language of the statute and resorting to construing the
statute in an effort to determine the legislative intent.
Specifically, the "intent" of the legislature is
expressed in the language of a statute. When the language is
plain and unambiguous, then that language must be enforced as
written to put that "intent" into effect.
"'The fundamental rule of statutory construction is
to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature
in enacting the statute. Words used in a statute must be
given their natural, plain, ordinary, and commonly understood
meaning, and where plain language is used a court is bound to
interpret that language to mean exactly what it says. If the
language of the statute is unambiguous, then there is no room
for judicial construction and the clearly expressed intent of
the legislature must be given effect.'
"IMED Corp. v. Systems Eng'g Assocs. Corp.,
602 So.2d 344, 346 (Ala. 1992). See also Ex parte
T.B., 698 So.2d 127, 130 (Ala. 1997), and Ex parte
Ankrom, 152 So.3d 397, 431 (Ala. 2013) (Shaw, J.,
concurring in part and concurring in the result) (stating
that when '[t]he language of [a] Code section is clear[,
] there is nothing to construe [and] no need to attempt to
divine the "intent" of the legislature').
"2The purpose of the plain-meaning rule--to
give effect to the legislature's words when determining
its intent--is rooted in the doctrine of separation of
powers: 'To apply a different policy would turn this
Court into a legislative body, and doing that, of course,
would be utterly inconsistent with the doctrine of separation
of powers.' DeKalb Cty. LP Gas Co., Inc. v. Suburban
Gas, Inc., 729 So.2d 270, 276 (Ala. 1998)."
Ex parte N.B., 222 So.3d 1160, 1160-61 (Ala. 2016)
(Shaw, J., concurring specially). Additionally, we can depart
from the literal meaning of a statute when applying the
literal meaning would "produce an absurd and unjust
result." City of Bessemerv. McClain,
957 So.2d 1061, 1075 (Ala. 2006). A rule of statutory
construction--in this case, the merger doctrine-- cannot be used
to deviate from the plain language of a statute unless that
language is ambiguous or would create an absurd result. ...