3

There has recently been a case of a teenager who was charged with 65 years because, during a robbery he and his accomplices were committing, a police officer shot and killed one of the robbers. The media reports that charging all those engaged in the crime that led to the criminal's death with murder is legal under "Alabama's Accomplice Law." I could not find the pertinent statutes leading to this conclusion; what is the legal justification for this charge?

Article - Media report on the story

Alabama Section 13-A-2-23 Criminal liability based upon behavior of another - Complicity.

8

This is an example of the so-called felony murder rule, in which the crime of murder is defined to include deaths related to a felony committed by the defendant. You'll note that the article actually uses the phrase "felony murder".

See the Alamaba Criminal Code at 13A-6-2:

(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, aggravated child abuse under Section 26-15-3.1, or 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 person.

It's interesting that "another participant" was apparently held to include the police officer.

|improve this answer|||||
  • That seems like a pretty straight defence: to charge felony murder they must charge the police officer with the same crime as a participant, not as an officer. – Nij Apr 8 '18 at 19:33
  • @Nij: I don't see any requirement that the "other participant" be charged with, or convicted of, any crime. But I do agree that the argument sounds questionable on its face. We would probably need to know more about the case the prosecution actually made. It's also entirely possible that the defendant will appeal; the verdict in this case is from just a couple days ago. – Nate Eldredge Apr 8 '18 at 19:59
  • 3
    There's also the issue that the killing doesn't seem to have been "in furtherance of" the crime of burglary; if anything it was an attempt to stop it. – Nate Eldredge Apr 8 '18 at 20:02
  • 7
    Rather than alleging that the police officer was a 'participant' in the burglary, I suspect the argument was that at least one of the burglars 'caused' the death by 'recklessly engag[ing] in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to a person' – subsection (2), and the other burglars were liable as accomplices. – sjy Apr 8 '18 at 22:02
5

In addition to the felony-murder statute itself, the justification rests on principles of causation and foreseeability. As Alabama courts have explained:

Section 13A-2-5, Ala. Code 1975, addresses causation, in pertinent part, as follows:

"(a) A person is criminally liable if the result would not have occurred but for his conduct, operating either alone or concurrently with another cause, unless the concurrent cause was sufficient to produce the result and the conduct of the actor clearly insufficient.

"(b) A person is nevertheless criminally liable for causing a result if the only difference between what actually occurred and what he intended, contemplated or risked is that:

"(1) A different person or property was injured, harmed or affected;

". . . ."

This Court addressed causation in the context of felony murder in Witherspoon v. State, 33 So. 3d 625 (Ala. Crim. App. 2009). In Witherspoon, two masked men, Witherspoon and Baggett, entered a convenience store; Baggett was holding a gun. The store clerk grabbed his own gun and shot Baggett. In upholding Witherspoon's conviction for felony murder, this Court stated:

"'[F]oreseeability is the key issue in a causation inquiry. The "controlling question[]" is "whether the ultimate result was foreseeable to the original actor." Henderson v. Kibbe, 431 U.S. 145, 151 n.9, 97 S.Ct. 1730, 1735 n.9, 52 L.Ed.2d 203 (1977). If the accused "should have perceived" that his own conduct would concur with another cause to bring about the injury to the victim, then the other cause is concurrent, not supervening. See Shirah v. State, 555 So. 2d 807, 812-13 (Ala. Cr. App. 1989) (conduct of accused, who supplied morphine to victim, was the cause-in-fact of victim's death from overdose of Secobarbital and morphine combined). On the other hand, a supervening cause "breaks the chain of causation" precisely because it is not a reasonably foreseeable result of the accused's conduct. Lewis [v. State], 474 So. 2d [766, 771 (Ala. Crim. App. 1985)].'"

Witherspoon, 33 So. 3d at 628-29 (quoting Pearson v. State, 601 So. 2d 1119, 1127 (Ala. Crim. App. 1992)).

Resolving the issue of causation, this Court held that, but for the acts of Witherspoon and Baggett entering the store wearing masks, demanding money, and carrying a gun, the store clerk would not have used his own gun to shoot and kill Baggett. Witherspoon, 33 So. 3d at 631. Furthermore, the store clerk's reactions to Witherspoon and Baggett's conduct were not abnormal or unforeseeable, given the actions of the participants in the robbery. Witherspoon, 33 So. 3d at 631.

Mills v. State, 144 So. 3d 499, 505 (Ala. Crim. App. 2013) (alteration in original).

|improve this answer|||||

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.