Whose Crime is it Anyway? Liability for the Lethal Acts of Nonparticipants in the Felony

43 Pages Posted: 14 Oct 2011

Date Written: October 14, 2011


This Article explores the methodology that courts should employ when determining the liability of a defendant under the felony-murder doctrine, where the perpetration of a felony results in the death of - a nonparticipant in the crime by another nonparticipant. Part I of the Article addresses the history of the doctrine, the policies that have sustained it throughout history, and the modern statutory promulgations of the rule. Part II explores not only how courts have handled the doctrine's causation requirement, but also how legislatures have responded to this requirement. Further, Part II discusses the court created theories of agency and proximate cause. Part III addresses the need for a consistent analytical framework and demonstrates the current confusion that has resulted from courts construing a statute to require different causation approaches. Part III submits that the courts' reliance on the agency theory, which requires an initial determination that a felon shot the fatal bullet, is inconsistent with both society's view towards crime and principles of statutory analysis. By applying the agency theory, the courts are using causation to restrict the application of the felony-murder doctrine, a responsibility that should be left to the legislature. Part IV proposes a methodology that is consistent with both principles of statutory interpretation and society's view toward crime. This approach uses the ordinary rules of causation and modifies them to apply to felony-murder. As an example, the proposed methodology is applied to various factual scenarios where the person who does the killing is unknown, or is someone other than the defendant, and the victim is a nonparticipant in the felony. Under this analysis, courts can not only interpret the causation requirement of the felony-murder doctrine consistently, but can also ensure the uniform administration of justice.

Suggested Citation

Simon, Michelle S., Whose Crime is it Anyway? Liability for the Lethal Acts of Nonparticipants in the Felony (October 14, 2011). University of Detroit Mercy Law Review, Vol. 71, No. 2, 1994, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1944160

Michelle S. Simon (Contact Author)

Pace University - School of Law ( email )

78 North Broadway
White Plains, NY 10603
United States

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