FELONY MURDER: No Need to be the Triggerman

On Sunday, Jan. 13, three Montgomery teenagers entered a residence armed with handguns in an attempt to commit a robbery. Failing to anticipate an armed homeowner, they were met with gunfire. Two of the boys escaped unharmed, but their third accomplice was not so lucky. Shot by the homeowner in self-defense, 20 year old Deandre Robertson sustained a gunshot wound and was pronounced dead at the scene. Of course the homeowner will not be charged, as he shot Robertson in self-defense. Enter the felony murder doctrine. Robertson’s two accomplices, who escaped, 17 year old Orlando Bowen and 19 year old Keyon Butler, will both be charged with felony murder as well as 1st degree robbery.

One might ask, how is it that they can be charged with the murder of their accomplice when it was the homeowner who committed the act of killing Robertson? The felony murder doctrine, as applied in this situation, makes any participant in an inherently dangerous felony, like 1st degree robbery, criminally liable for any deaths that occur during or in furtherance of that felony. The felony rule is often justified as a means of deterring violent felonies.

This means a participant in a dangerous felony can be charged with murder although he lacks the intent to kill and does not in fact cause the death of another person. The most often applied factor for determining whether the underlying felony qualifies for application of the rule is whether it presents a foreseeable danger to life. Additionally, the link between the felony and the death must not be too remote.

There are two ways in which the felony murder rule is applied, depending on which jurisdiction one finds himself in. In jurisdictions that adopt the agency theory, the death must be caused by one of the agents of the crime. Thus, in the case at hand, were Alabama an agency jurisdiction, felony murder could not be charged, since the homeowner who killed Robertson was not an agent of the crime. However, in Alabama, proximate cause theory applies, which means that the chain of events between the felony and the death must be short enough to have legally caused the death. Unfortunately for the defendants, this particular chain of events was about as short as they come; they broke into the house, and were met with gunfire.

If you or someone you know has been charged with a capital or violent offense, especially felony murder, then your top priority must be to obtain the most capable legal representation possible. The attorneys at Parkman White, LLP have been trying these sorts of cases for decades, and bring a specialized expertise and unique team approach to handling each case. Their record speaks for itself, with an ever-expanding list of improbable courtroom victories. For more information, check out our website at www.parkmanlawfirm.com.