Articles Tagged with Felony Murder

drew-patrick-miller-4560-unsplash-copy-300x111Judges have broad discretion when it comes to allowing defendants to represent themselves. In a recent case, a judge denied a pro se petition by Dwight Doty to represent himself in the slaying of a 9-year-old boy whose father was a member of a rival gang. But another recent case outlines the perils of getting what you wish for.

Jovan Battle, a homeless man who was accused of murdering an off-duty police officer was convicted after a jury determined he was culpable for the death of an officer and the wounding of his friend. While the case would have likely resulted in a conviction of some kind, it did not have to result in a first-degree murder conviction and several armed battery counts for which Battle will spend the rest of his life in prison. In fact, Battle never pulled the trigger or opened fire on anyone.

According to prosecutors, Battle mistook the police officer for some another person with whom he had had a fight earlier that night. He directed one of the two other men he was with that night to their car and that man opened fire, killing the officers and injuring his friend. Of course, none of that should have been disclosed to police during the interrogation, and yet all of it was, so it formed the basis of their first-degree murder charge against Battle.

450px-Bankrupt_computer_storeThe Illinois felony murder rule is a heavily debated topic. In fact, the Illinois law is one of the broadest in the country. The suspect of an armed robbery committed in Carpentersville, IL is being charged with murder because his accomplice died during the execution of the crime. U.S. Marshals apprehended the suspect, Bobby Heard, 32, in St. Louis, Missouri, according to the Kane County state’s attorney’s office.

At around 7:30 PM Heard and his partner, Kenyon R. Slater, 37, armed with handguns, broke into a computer store on the 1600 block of Ravish Lane according to Carpentersville police and prosecutors. After restraining two employees and pistol whipping one, the thieves grabbed cash and electronic equipment before fleeing the store. While Slater and Heard were fleeing the scene one of the store employees broke free, picked up a handgun, ran toward the thieves, and shot Slater in the store parking lot, according to prosecutors.

According to the Kane County coroner’s office, Slater, a Chicago resident, was driven to Sherman Hospital in Elgin, IL where he later passed away. Heard fled the scene in a vehicle that was driven by an unknown third suspect. A warrant was later issued for his arrest, charging him with a felony count of armed robbery and felony murder for the death Slater.

A 15-year-old Chicago boy was charged in February with the murder of his friend, a 16-year-old Chicago boy, who was shot in the head during the commission of an armed robbery. But this case has a twist – the victim was killed by an off-duty police officer, who himself was the victim of an attempted armed robbery by the victim and his friend. So how can the boy be charged with murder when he did not pull the trigger? Because of a controversial law known as the felony murder rule.

Illinois Felony Murder Rule

A criminal defendant can be charged with first degree murder in Illinois if the victim was killed while the defendant was “attempting or committing a forcible felony other than second degree murder.” Forcible felonies include armed robbery, burglary, sexual assault, or any other violent felony.

Although the full statute states that “a person who kills an individual” is the one charged with first degree murder, under the proximate cause theory of felony murder, the defendant does not have to be the one who actually killed the victim. Instead, the defendant can be charged for the death because the death was so closely related to the commission of the underlying felony.

The felony murder rule is based, then, on the assumption that any person committing a forcible felony – such as armed robbery – should realize that one of the risks is that somebody, either the victim or one of the assailants, may be killed. It does not matter if the assailant had no intention of killing anybody. Maybe the weapon was brought along just to scare the victim. Perhaps, even, it was not loaded, so there was no possible way the assailant could kill the victim.

But under the felony murder rule, intent is irrelevant. The only thing that matters in proving felony murder is that the underlying crime was a forcible felony. This makes defending against the charge extremely difficult, since the prosecution does not need to prove intent for the first-degree murder charge to stick.

Self-defense is not a defense to a charge of felony murder. Self-defense is the justified use of force against an unjustified force. Since armed robbery is the unjustified use of force, a person charged with felony murder could not argue that he was protecting himself from the victim.

Defending against a felony murder charge is fact intensive and depends on the circumstances surrounding each case. It may be possible to defend against a felony murder charge if the facts show that the defendant abandoned the plan before it happened (for example, if in this case the defendant had fled the scene as soon as he realized his friend had a gun).

Or, if the underlying crime began as a non-forcible felony, it may be possible to argue that the defendant could not have known the underlying crime could lead to murder because it did not begin as a forcible felony (for example, if the defendant and his friend had been robbing a vacant car and were then approached by the owner, at which point it escalated to a forcible felony).

Because there are so few defenses to a charge of felony murder, and because they are all fact sensitive, it is extremely important that you speak with a criminal defense attorney immediately if you are being charged with felony murder. While intent regarding the murder is irrelevant, intent regarding commission of the underlying crime may be partially relevant, and it is important to discuss those facts with a criminal defense attorney who understands the felony murder rule prior to making any statements to the police. Continue reading

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