Could you be charged with your own botched murder?
June 7, 2007 1:57 PM   Subscribe

HypotheticalLegalFilter: In a particular scenario, could the victim of a botched murder be charged with the murder? Details inside.

Adam is a shop owner, and Ben is an insurance agent. Adam and Ben hatch an insurance scam in which Adam will make a false claim after a faked robbery, Ben will ensure his company pays out, and the two will share the profits.

Adam decides that his fake robbery is so fool-proof that he doesn't need Ben to ensure the insurance pay-out and decides to kill Ben instead. However, Adam accidentally kills random stranger Charlie instead of Ben when he confuses the two.

Here's my hypothetical legal question: Could Ben be charged in conjunction with Charlie's murder?

I've been thinking of it this way: If Charlie's murder is capital murder because it was perpetrated as an ancillary to the insurance fraud, and if Adam and Ben were co-conspirators in the fraud, then Ben could face a capital murder charge, even though he was the intended victim of the murder.

I get pretty much all my knowledge of criminal law from TV and novels, and the scenario above is also from a TV show I once watched. I'd really appreciate knowing if my theory as to the charges is possible, complete nonsense, or anywhere in between.
posted by chudmonkey to Law & Government (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The term for it is "felony murder" and what it means is that if you're involved in committing a felony, and if during commission of that felony someone dies, then you can be charged with murder even if you weren't the one who killed the victim.

For instance, if you lead police on a high speed chase through a city, and if during that chase a police car loses control and there's a fatal accident, you can be charged with felony murder.

If you are part of a gang who robs a bank, and one of your partners shoots and kills someone, you and everyone involved in the plan can be charged with felony murder. Moreover, if the police shoot and kill one of your partners, you can be charged with felony murder.

The details of how that's handled vary from state to state; it isn't always like I just said. But that's the legal principle you're looking for.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:24 PM on June 7, 2007

posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:26 PM on June 7, 2007

Based on my many years of watching "Law & Order," I'm fairly certain that 'depraved indifference' figures in here somewhere.
posted by spilon at 2:50 PM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

SCDB writes:

...modern interpretations typically require that the felony be an obviously dangerous one, or one committed in an obviously dangerous manner
Insurance fraud is probably not dangerous enough. The "robbery" part is a good red herring, though. Maybe if their plan involved staging a robbery with guns and everything, and having witnesses present who are not in on the act, that part would make the insurance fraud felony dangerous enough to qualify.

IIAL, but IANYL. Insurance fraud is bad, m'kay?
posted by spacewrench at 2:50 PM on June 7, 2007

spillon-while everyone loves "depraved heart" (which is what we call it in my jurisdiction) it's not applicable to this scenario. Adam intended to kill and he killed; that's just homicide. Depraved heart is intended to commit the act you committed, but not doing so with the intent to kill, but still knowing that death of some person was highly likely to result. Basically, behavior that is manifestly recklessly and demonstrate extreme indifference to the value of human life gets you depraved heart, if it kills someone. Some codes assign depraved heart to homicides which result when the intent is merely to cause severe bodily injury. Others just label that "attempt".

It's similar but (in most codes I'm familiar with) a different part of the statute.
posted by crush-onastick at 4:39 PM on June 7, 2007

Ben is not party to the murder only the fraud. Therefore not an accomplice.
posted by bitdamaged at 5:00 PM on June 7, 2007

I don't believe this is felony murder, though it is tempting to conclude that it is.

The reason, is that Ben does not die as a result of the fake robbery, but instead, he dies as a result of Adam's plot to kill Ben to cut Ben out of the profits on the fake robbery.

Even though Adam did not intend to kill Charlie, Adam is still guilty of the capital murder of Charlie due to the doctrine of transferred intent. Ben cannot be held responsible for Charlie's death, because Ben had no intent to kill anybody, and Charlie's death resulted from a plot that was separate from Ben's plot with Adam; Ben died as a result of a plot that Ben knew nothing about.

I guess what I'm trying to get at, said more simply, is that if you're participating in a conspiracy, and your co-conspirators decide they want to kill you to cut you out of the profits of the conspiracy, and they accidentally kill someone else when they try to kill you, then you (the co-conspirator they intended to kill, but did not) are not guilty of felony murder.
posted by jayder at 5:05 PM on June 7, 2007

I agree with the hive mind that it's not felony murder, but if I were the prosecutor, I'd seriously consider conspiracy. I think we've got the common-law elements-- agreement between two or more people to commit a crime, an intent by both to both enter into the agreement and commit the crime (conspiracy requires specific intent at common law), and an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy. The last one is a sticking point, but if I got it before a typical jury, I bet I'd get a finding of overt act in furtherance.

Once I've got those, Adam as a conspirator is liable for all crimes committed in furtherance of the conspiracy (we got that) that were foreseeable (stickiest wicket, but again, I bet a good prosecutor could sell if if he could get the issue to the jury).

Obviously, IAAL but IANYL.
posted by missouri_lawyer at 5:28 PM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

If Charlie's murder is capital murder because it was perpetrated as an ancillary to the insurance fraud...

The murder was premeditated, so Adam is getting the chair because he intended to kill Ben, and that intent was transferred when he killed Charlie. It is an intentional murder regardless of whether it was perpetrated in commission of a felony (which it was not - the murder of Ben/Charlie was not committed during the commission of the fraud or while fleeing from the fraud).

Ben is definitely guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud, but that's it. Adam's break from the plan by deciding to murder Ben was not forseeable, and essentially broke the chain for Ben to be liable as a co-conspirator. Co-conspirators are liable for all forseeable crimes that result from the conspiracy; Adam's decision to murder Ben was not forseeable given their original agreement.
posted by gatorae at 7:59 PM on June 7, 2007

You're all right, and gatorae knows why.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:24 PM on June 7, 2007

Response by poster: Cheers, everyone! I really appreciate you taking the time to respond!
posted by chudmonkey at 12:18 AM on June 8, 2007

« Older How do you minimize the crap you bring to the gym?...   |   Putting the Moo Back in Muesli Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.