CrimLaw questions, help!

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CrimLaw questions, help!

Postby vidayvino » Wed Dec 27, 2017 5:10 pm

Hi all,

1. Under the common law, felony murder refers to an intentional commitment of an inherently dangerous felony which must be independent from the killing. In other words, aggravated assault or aggravated battery cannot be the underlying crime. My question is, how to distinguish aggravated assault/batter from felony murder?

2. A as a creditor, in order to avoid default on a loan, sent a group of gangsters to the debtor B's residence to fire a few warning shots into the air for the sole purpose of scaring B. B got panicked and died of the heart attack. Is A liable for B's death? (Jurisdiction: US common law)



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Re: CrimLaw questions, help!

Postby Legallylawyer2020 » Wed Dec 27, 2017 6:02 pm

1) it depends on the jurisdiction. Your definition of felony murder is confusing. Felony Murder statutes are generally either enumerated (they list the felonies it applies to) or, as you said, there is the felony murder statute that specifies it applies to inherently dangerous felonies. Your question about assault is different. Where the merger doctrine applies to the felony murder statute (and only where the merger doctrine applies- you have to look at the specific jurisdiction to figure this out, and every US jurisdiction is different when it comes to their felony murder statute so the common law vs MPC inflected jurisdiction distinction doesn’t do a whole lot to help here), the underlying felony cannot be one that merges with homicide. Assault is one such felony. The driving force behind this is that if one assaults a person to the degree that the assaulted party dies as a result, that is a homicide not felony murder.

The idea of felony murder is to hold those responsible for felonies accountable for deaths that negligently/recklessly/accidentally occur during the commission of a predicate felony. A bank teller getting shot during the commission of a robbery is a classic example of a felony murder situation.

Assault or assault and battery is the intentional infliction of bodily injury. The best way I can distinguish it for you is to say that felony murder holds the perpetrator(s) of the predicate felony strictly liable for deaths occurring during the commission of said felony while assault requires mens rea (generally purpose or intent but can also be recklessness).

2) Again, saying US common law is not helpful because not all common law inflected jurisdictions in the US are the same. Generally, however, yes A is liable for B’s death. If it was a loansharking situation it may be felony murder, depending on the FM statute in this specific jurisdiction. Otherwise it’s likely involuntary manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide. Causation and proximate cause are going to be the lynchpins here. Was the death foreseeable? Did the gun shots hasten the death by even one second? He would be liable under the Pinkerton doctrine of complicity as either an accomplice or a conspirator.

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