Tag Archive for 'felony murder'

If You’re Charged With Felony Murder, Don’t Sucker Punch The Prosecutor

You know, losing can be tough.  Whether it’s a game of basketball, a hot dog eating contest, or even when you’re just trying to out-do your neighbors in a dazzling display “who has the bigger television,” the feeling of not being up to snuff is undoubtedly an awful one.

But what’s even more difficult than losing is fighting the urge to be a sore loser and act out against your fellow competitors and/or the audience.  However, if you ever find yourself in a losing position, it’s important to fight this urge because as the old saying goes, “nobody likes a sore loser.”  And nowhere is this more true than in the courtroom, because there they not only dislike sore losers, they always hold a particularly high disdain against violent ones who attack the opposing counsel.

Yep, an Oklahoman man by the name of Emanuel “E Man” Mitchell recently demonstrated the best way to not win over a jury.  Mitchell was standing trial for felony murder and conspiracy.  But when the prosecutor, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, began giving his argument to the jury over the proper punishment for Mitchell, E Man snapped and jumped out from his chair to take a swing at Prater.  Luckily, Prater was able to take the sucker punch like a champ and unfortunately for Mitchell, Prater was able to give it back a little bit better.  The District Attorney pushed Mitchell back and caused him to topple over and dislocate his shoulder.  Quite a push indeed.  Prater came out of the scuffle mostly unscathed with only minor cuts and bruises, while Mitchell had to be sent to the hospital for his injuries.

This story also serves as a perfect example on how to lose major street cred.  I’d be horrified if I ever got beat up by some paper pushing attorney.  But I can’t imagine having it happen in front of a whole room of people, especially when everyone knows who I am.  If I was Mitchell, I’d be searching for the nearest hole right about now because I wouldn’t want to be seen until the whole thing blows over.

Speaking of Mitchell, though the length of his punishment has yet to come down, I think I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the jury will probably try and put him away for the maximum time allotted.  I haven’t read the case brief, but let’s just call it a hunch.  (UPDATE: The jury recommended Mitchell be given life in prison)

One of the crimes Mitchell was charged with, by the way, is an interesting oddity worth exploring since many legal laypeople may be unfamiliar with it.  On first glance, the term “felony murder” may seem like any old murder charge where a person is accused of killing someone else.  But it isn’t.  Felony murder actually is a term used to describe a crime in which a third party is killed because of a felony committed by the defendant.  It’s a bit of an oddity because the defendant doesn’t actually have to be the person who kills the third party, the defendant only needs to be in the process or cause of a felony level crime committed that resulted in the murder.

Sound a little confusing?  Don’t worry, I’ve yet to meet any first-year law student who wasn’t a little bewildered by the concept.  It’s definitely one that is better explained by way of an example.  In Mitchell’s case, he’s accused of ordering his 16-year-old cousin to rob a drug store.  However during the robbery, Mitchell’s cousin was shot and killed by the store owner.  Thus the felony (the robbery) was started because of Mitchell’s orders and because his cousin was killed, under the felony murder rule, Mitchell can now be charge with his cousin’s murder.

See why it can be sort of a tough rule to comprehend?  There are many variables to consider when trying to show that a person is liable under this law.  But the most essentially element is whether it can be shown that the murdered third party was killed as a consequence relating to the felony.  The standard used to measure this, as well as the limits to actual law itself, vary from state to state.  It can be very confusing, which is why critics of the felony murder rule often point to this as one of the major faults with the law.  Specifically, that the connection between felonies and deaths that occur can often be very tenuous, and yet a defendant can easily have the charges against them exponentially increased under the felony murder rule even if the defendant can’t really be held liable for a third party’s death.

Mitchell’s case is a good example of the felony murder rule applied correctly, assuming all the facts reported are true.  The rule is designed to hold defendants responsible for the consequences of their crimes, after all.

But problems arise in those cases that aren’t quite as clear cut.  Say for instance if Mitchell’s cousin was able to rob the drug store successfully and instead went home with the ill-gotten goods.  If among the stolen items procured by Mitchell’s cousin was a bottle of poisonous pills that was mislabeled as aspirin and Mitchell’s cousin then took the pills and died from them, would Mitchell than be liable under the felony murder rule?  Depending on the state, the jury, and the skill of the attorneys, he may or may not be.  That’s the inherent problem with the rule, the abundant gray area.