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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ind. Decisions - "Motion to dismiss felony-murder charge denied"

Some quotes from a long story by Madeline Buckley of the South Bend Tribune:

SOUTH BEND -- An attorney for a man who was allegedly involved in a home invasion during which the homeowner shot one of the intruders asked a judge to dismiss the felony murder charge, arguing that it should not apply in cases where an accomplice is the victim.

St. Joseph Superior Court Judge Jane Woodward Miller on Tuesday denied the request, but the motion offers a glimpse into potential future appeals arguments that could challenge current case law on the controversial Indiana statute. * * *

In a motion filed in March, defense attorney Charles Lahey argued that the language of the state’s felony murder statute is at odds with a 1999 Supreme Court decision that determined the charge can be applied when an accomplice is killed in the act of committing a felony.

Palmer no question is incorrectly decided,” Lahey said at a hearing on Tuesday, referring to the Supreme Court case, Palmer v. State.

In Palmer, a panel of judges [sic.] upheld Jesse Palmer’s conviction of felony murder after a correctional officer shot and killed Palmer’s accomplice to a kidnapping.

Lahey referenced a similar case in Elkhart in which a jury convicted three teenagers of felony murder after a homeowner shot and killed an accomplice in a burglary gone awry.

ILB: Palmer v. State is a 3-2, 1999 Indiana Supreme Court opinion, written by Justice Dickson, who is now Chief Justice. He was joined by Justices Boehm and Selby, who are no longer on the Court. The two dissenters, Justice Sullivan and CJ Shepard, also are no longer on the Court. From the dissent:
I do not believe that our statutes authorize the imposition of liability for murder where the defendant's co-perpetrator is the victim.

Our felony murder statute provides: "A person who ... kills another human being while committing or attempting to commit... kidnaping ... commits murder, a felony." Ind.Code § 35-42-1-1. Palmer here did not kill another human being; his co-perpetrator was killed by a law enforcement official. Under the terms of the felony murder statute, Palmer is not guilty of felony murder.

From the majority:
The felony murder language of our murder statute provides: "A person who ... [k]ills another human being while committing or attempting to commit arson, burglary, child molesting, consumer product tampering, criminal deviate conduct, kidnapping, rape, robbery, or carjacking; ... commits murder, a felony."[6]

The statutory language "kills another human being while committing" does not restrict the felony murder provision only to instances in which the felon is the killer, but may also apply equally when, in committing any of the designated felonies, the felon contributes to the death of any person.

The South Bend Tribune story continues:

The case of the “Elkhart Four,” as it is popularly known, sparked resistance to what some said was an unfair application of the felony murder statute.

The three teenagers who went to trial have appealed the conviction and are awaiting a decision from the court, which could lead to a challenge of the Palmer decision down the road.

Lahey acknowledged the uphill battle involved in persuading a local trial judge to rule against the Palmer Supreme Court decision, but he said Indiana is in the minority in its interpretation of a felony murder statute.

“The defendant respectfully urges this court to refuse to follow that holding based on the plain language of the statute,” Lahey’s motion reads.

St. Joseph County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Ken Cotter asked the judge to deny the motion to dismiss the charge, noting that the Palmer decision has been upheld many times.

“The defendant should have known and knew the act could cause someone’s death,” Cotter said.

[Judge] Woodward Miller did deny the motion, saying she does not find the application of the felony murder statute to be unconstitutional [sic.].

“I understand our state is in the minority but I don't find it an unreasonable minority to be in,” she said.

Here is an Oct. 9, 2013 ILB post on the "Elkhart Four" case. Here is the docket of the appeal of two of the Elkhart defendants to the Court of Appeals. Several amicus briefs have been filed in support of the appellants. Here is one of the amicus briefs, this one submitted by the Indiana Public Defender Council. Notice footnote 1 on p. 3, which begins:
Although this Court cannot overrule an Indiana Supreme Court case, it can — and appropriately has — expressed its respectful disagreement and urged the Indiana Supreme Court to reconsider precedent.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 16, 2014 10:04 AM
Posted to Ind. Trial Ct. Decisions