Commentary. A fundamental pre-requisite of finding someone guilty of having committed a crime has always been that the guilty party acted with a culpable or blameworthy state. Part of the dilemma in sorting out an answer to the previous two puzzlers was the difficulty in figuring out the precise nature of the actor's intent. It was never true in either case that the intent of the defendants in those cases did not matter. There are, however, a number of important and controversial exceptions to the requirement of a finding of mens rea in criminal cases. The felony-murder doctrine is one of them.
Usually, to be convicted of murder, one must have acted with the intent to kill, or have exhibited such extreme recklessness with regard to human life (emptying an automatic rifle into a crowded room) that one's actions have "intent" written on their face. To be convicted of murder in the first degree, one must have acted in a pre-meditated fashion or the killing must take place under circumstances presumed to be pre-meditated, i.e., such as administering poison.
The felony-murder rule is an exception to these general requirements. Simply put: if a killing occurs during the course of a commission of a felony, all accomplices in the felony are chargeable with murder. What do you think of this rule? If you were a prosecuting attorney in the District Attorney's office in a large urban area would you be in favor of the felony-murder rule or against it?
The felony murder rule is one of those offenses that impose strict criminal liability on a defendant. Statutory rape and bigamy are examples of other strict criminal liability offenses which do not require proof of the actor's state of mind as a pre-requisite to a finding of guilt. Some have argued that strict criminal liability is to be preferred to a requirement of mens rea since it is often a messy and complicated business to sort out what a person "had in mind," as was evident, certainly, from our examination of the intent of the defendants in the previous two puzzlers.
More efficient it may be, but is it fair to punish Henry for first degree murder? No doubt Henry does not have perfectly clean hands. He was not simply a bystander to a crime, but a participant. But he neither committed the murder nor did he aid its commission in any way. Henry himself was not armed with a deadly weapon nor was he aware that John was carrying a deadly weapon nor was he aware that John, once inside the bank, would engage in dangerous conduct. What do you think? Is Henry guilty of murder?
The felony-murder rule has been increasingly applied in complex variety of cases. Here are two variations of the tenth puzzler based on actual cases. In both cases "Henry's equilvalent" was found guilty of murder.
John, Alice, and Henry Rob a Bank - The Sequel:
John, Alice and Henry decide to rob a bank. Henry waits in the getaway car while John and Alice (a latter day Bonnie and Clyde) commit the holdup. During the hold-up John turns on Alice and shoots her. On the felony-murder doctrine, Henry, who (remember) was waiting in the getaway car, was found guilty of murder. (See People v. Cabaltero)
John, Alice, and Henry Strike Again:
John, Alice and Henry decide to rob a bank. Henry waits in the getaway car while John and Alice (a latter day Bonnie and Clyde) commit the holdup. After they leave the bank and drive off with Henry, one of the tellers dies of a fright-induced heart attack. Some states, again California, have held that Henry can be convicted for this murder as well. (See People v. Stampe)
Would you find Henry guilty in all or none of these cases? In any one of them?
Mohamed is not "making up"his ghost story. People from both villages not only believed in ghosts, they have believed for centuries that the path beteen the two villages is haunted. As in several previous puzzlers, this puzzler is based on an actual case. If you were a member of the jury, how would you decide? Did Mohamed murder Hamid?
Well, (again) accepting the minimal requirement that murder, whatever else we may wish to say, is "the intentional killing of another human being," we can agree (certainly) that Mohamed hurled his spear at Hamid with the intent to kill. So he's guilty of murdering Hamid, no? But wait a minute.
Mohamed did not intend to kill another human being. He intended to kill a ghost. And murder, remember, is "the intentional killing of another human being." Of course, despite his intentions, Mohamed did kill another human being. So, is Mohamed guilty or not guilty of murder?
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