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Criminal Nuggets


Apr 10, 2017

People v. Mandoline, 2017 IL App (2d) 150511 (February). Episode 318 (Duration 6:01)

Sometimes you can get a felony murder proximate cause defense instruction.

Felony Murder Facts

One victim died in her sleep after inhaling smoke from a car fire.

A second victim did not die but suffered from serious burns.

The fire was caused by an arson of a car parked in the driveway of the home. The garage door was open.

Domestic Gone Wrong

Defendant had been dating the deceased and was upset with her.

Their relationship had been on the rocks.

He left a part at the home earlier that night where he told everyone that he wished they would all die. In an interview with police he admitted to putting a burning piece of paper in the car’s gas tank.

Foreseeability Instruction

Finally, defendant wanted a jury instruction on foreseeability.

Specifically, defendant offered IPI Criminal 4th No. 7.15A (Supp. 2011) in the following form:

“A person commits the offense of first degree murder when he commits the offense of aggravated arson or arson, and the death of an individual results as a direct and foreseeable consequence of a chain of events set into motion by his commission of the offense of aggravated arson or arson. It is immaterial whether the killing is intentional or accidental.”

Says Death Not Foreseeable

Defendant argues that the manner of Morgan’s death was not foreseeable; rather, it was a combination of unforeseeable circumstances that resulted in her home becoming engulfed in flames. According to defendant, the house caught fire only because the garage door had been left open, the door to the mudroom had been left open, and a powerful all-house fan in the attic drew the smoke and flames from the car into the house.

In Illinois felony murder is strict liability.

The State is not required to prove that the defendant could foresee the death or that the defendant intended to commit murder; the State need show only that the defendant intended to commit the underlying felony.

However...

However, where a death is caused by a third party, the felony-murder rule follows the proximate-cause theory, meaning that liability for murder will attach for any death proximately resulting from the unlawful activity, even if the death is caused by one resisting the crime.

This makes sense.

If the death is caused by one outside of the criminal actors, then it would be unjust to impose liability if the mechanism of death was so remote as to be unforeseeable; whereas it remains just to impose liability for an act directly committed by the defendant that caused the death of the victim, even if the precise mechanism of death was not envisioned by the defendant as he was committing the underlying crime.

Accordingly, the foreseeability qualification embodied in IPI Criminal 4th No. 7.15A (Supp. 2011) has been required only in cases in which a third party outside of the criminal actors caused the death.

IPI 7.15A Committee Notes

The comments to IPI Criminal 4th No. 7.15A (Supp. 2011) suggest that it is to be given in situations “where the defendant did not perform the acts which caused the death of the deceased.” IPI Criminal 4th No. 7.15A (Supp. 2011), Committee Comments.

Based on the fact that the comments suggest that IPI Criminal 4th No. 7.15A (Supp. 2011) does not apply to a situation in which the defendant is alleged to have committed the act that resulted in the death of the deceased, and the fact that the only cases we have been able to find in which IPI Criminal 4th No. 7.15A (Supp. 2011) has been used are those in which the defendant did not perform the act that caused the death of the deceased, the trial court did not err in refusing defendant’s proposed jury instruction.

Besides, the fact that fire spreads is eminently foreseeable and a burning car parked in the driveway of a home might communicate the flames from the car to the house is obvious.