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A week ago

Question 1.

Identify and explain the limitations to the felony murder rule.

Question 2.

Joey McGrady was driving under the influence of alcohol when he lost control and collided with Melissa Jacobs's car. Melissa was 35 weeks pregnant at the time of the accident. After the accident, Melissa gave birth to a baby boy, Seth, who lived only 11 hours before dying from injuries he sustained in the car crash. The prosecutor charged Joey with vehicular homicide for Seth's death. Joey argues that Seth was not "alive" at the time of the accident so he cannot be charged with homicide. Can Joey be charged with vehicular homicide? Why or why not?
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Criminal Law (Justice Series)
Edition: 2nd
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Answer 1

Although the felony murder rule is far-reaching, there are limitations to it. One of them is that most states limit the rule to inherently dangerous felonies, those most likely to result in serious injury or loss of life. This includes any felony that "by its very nature … cannot be committed without creating a substantial risk that someone will be killed. For crimes like robbery and arson, this definition suffices. For some others, however, it may not. Thus, courts will sometimes examine "the facts and the circumstances of the particular case to determine if such felony was inherently dangerous in the manner and circumstances in which it was committed." A second limitation placed on the felony murder rule is that the felony must be independent of the homicide. The res gestae requirement places yet another limitation on the felony murder rule. Simply, the homicide must occur during the res gestae of the felony. There are three subcomponents to the res gestae requirement: 1. The felony and the homicide must accompany each other in close temporal proximity. 2. The second component of the res gestae requirement is that there be a cause between the felony and the homicide. If the latter is wholly independent of the former, the felony murder rule will not apply. The third component of the res gestae requirement focuses on the who of the killing. Simply, what if a killing occurs during the course of a felony but at the hands of someone else? In general, the answer is that the felony murder rule "does not extend to a killing, although growing out of the commission of the felony, if directly attributable to the act of one other than the defendant or those associated with him in the unlawful enterprise." This means that if someone else other than the felon, even an adversary (such as a security guard who fires her gun at a bank robbery suspect and kills an innocent bystander), is responsible for the killing, the felony murder rule does not apply. So even though the felon sets the wheels in motion, he or she may not be properly held responsible for all harms that result from the felony he or she is responsible for.

Answer 2

Answers will vary but student should discuss why Joey can or cannot be charged. The common law defined the beginning of life as occurring when a fetus was born alive. This definition has been carried forward into several modern court decisions. For example, in Keeler v. Superior Court, the defendant purposely kicked his pregnant former wife in the stomach. The fetus died. The court held that the fetus was not a human being. Contrast this decision with Commonwealth v. Cass, a case in which a motorist crashed into another vehicle being driven by a woman who was nearly nine months pregnant. The fetus died as a result of injuries the woman sustained and was delivered by Caesarean section. An autopsy revealed that the fetus was viable at the time of the crash. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts rejected the common law definition of human being. The child was alive and died as a result of injuries sustained during the accident. Most jurisdictions continue to retain the common law definition of the beginning of life, but Massachusetts and several other states have begun to treat viable fetuses as human beings. In such states, it is possible for people to be convicted of the crime of feticide, causing the death of a fetus. Indeed, some states have gone even further than Massachusetts. California defines a human being as a fetus that has progressed beyond the embryonic stage of seven to eight weeks. Depending on the state, more than likely the baby would be seen as alive but if not Joey could arguably be charged with feticide.
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