Although the clemency law is meant to give a second chance to those who have been incarcerated, it can also be used to correct an injustice that has been committed as a consequence of faulty legislation. A case in point are the controversial laws that charge people with murder even if the person who actually did the killing is someone else. The felony murder rule is considered to be unfair, but politicians are unwilling to tackle it because of the fear of backlash from the public.
The basic premise of the law is that it is possible to charge someone for murder if someone dies during the commission of a list of felonies. This may not be so controversial if the dead person is the victim of the felony or an innocent bystander. However, it is an altogether different scenario if the dead person is an accomplice who was killed by the police or some other agency during an attempted apprehension.
The Case of Teenage Burglars
Such was the case for Justin Doyle, who was charged with felony murder when his friend and accomplice Travis Castle was killed in the course of a failed burglary. The circumstances are interesting because the would-be burglars actually checked to ensure that there was noone in the house before they entered. This may have proved to be a mitigating circumstance when the case eventually reached the courts. The law tends to aggravate the charge if there is a person in the house.
As it happened, a friend of the owner was asleep in the house, yet the two burglars had already worked out that the real owner was in the hospital that night. The man who was sleeping in the house was startled when the teenagers entered the house. He grabbed his gun and fired, killing Castle, who was only 14 years old. His accomplice, who was 15 at the time, was charged with felony murder. This is a perfect example of why lawyers are a critical resource for defendants.
Setting aside the issue of charging children as adults in the USA, there was disquiet amongst the legal community about someone being charged for such a crime when they had no weapon and did not actually kill the victim. In any case, Doyle was jailed for 15 years for the felony murder charge. As controversy reigned over the case, the governor decided to commute the sentence rather than change the law.
Commuting Sentences to Avoid Legislative Reform
Although the outcome for the Doyle family may be satisfactory, it does not remove the basic principles behind a controversial law. Somehow, someone is going to be charged again under that law. Legal academics argue that it is far more efficient to curtail the law than to deal with individual cases as a series of pardons. In any case, the administrative and bureaucratic burden of clemency procedures is so extensive that it eludes most convicts.
Ideally, the clemency law should be concerned with rehabilitating exceptional offenders who have shown the capability and willingness to improve their lives. At other times, there are problems in the trial that cannot be corrected otherwise. In the case of bad legislation, the solution ought to be found in changing that bad law or getting rid of it altogether. Few legal minds would support a system that imprisons minors for crimes they have not committed.
Help for Those Charged
If you are charged under this law or are convicted under its provisions, contact David Freidberg Attorney at Law at telephone number 312-560-7100 for further advice on your case.
(image courtesy of Tim Graf)