Blog Template Theology of the Body: Felony Murder and the Moral Law...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Felony Murder and the Moral Law...

(MM, perhaps you could help me with this?)

I was watching a Frontline special tonight on juveniles serving life sentences in the State of Colorado. There was the case of a 17-year-old kid who had set up a gun sale hoax. His plan was to fake the sale of a handgun to another teen, taking the cash, and asking to show a feature of the gun, then taking the gun and the money. In the course of the hoax, he accidentally fired the gun, killing the other teen.

If tried in juvenile court, he would have been given a manslaughter charge, a robbery charge, totaling as few as 2 years and as much as 15 years for his sentence. But, because he was tried outside of juvenile courts, the felony murder statue applied. The prosecution charged the teen with first-degree murder. The jury lowered the conviction to reckless manslaughter, but convicted him of the robbery, resulting in an automatic conviction for felony murder due to the robbery conviction. He was thus sentenced to life without parole. You can read the whole story here.

Anyway, my question is one of the justice of a felony murder statute. Does it make sense to charge a getaway driver with murder when a robbery goes bad? Can this in any way be considered proportional? I had never even heard of felony murder before tonight. Aquinas seems to state that unintended consequences in legitimate acts are not the cause of guilt, even for homocide, while killings committed unintentionally in the course of illicit acts (i.e. felonies) are murder. He even states that if the person fails to take due care, he can be guilty of murder.

This seems to me to, from a moral perspective, circumvent the qualifiers of mortal sin. I don't think, however that this is what Aquinas was attempting to elucidate. But, he was also addressing canon law, not civil law. As understand it, felony murder statutes first appeared in English common law in the 12th Century, shortly before Aquinas. Yet, it seems that in the case of felony murder, there is a lack of full consent, as well as a lack of knowledge. Anyone able to help on this?