THE CALL TO LIMIT THE SCOPE OF LIABILITY FOR FELONY MURDER
My heart is full.
I went to law school because I wanted to be a political analyst. I had no desire to practice law. And I specifically told myself that even if I ended up practicing law, I would do anything BUT criminal law. The thought of jails and prisons sounded really depressing to me, and I wanted nothing to do with it.
But the universe has a great sense of humor.
At the beginning of last year, I had a lot of free time on my hands so, during quarantine, I decided to jump-start my legal/pollical analyst “career.” I spent most of my time reading through case law. And that is when I came across Linda’s case ( omitting last names for now). The Florida Supreme Court had just issued a ruling against her, and something about the court’s opinion did not sit right with me—I wholeheartedly disagreed with it. I wrote a blog post about it, and I also did a video about her case, which I posted on YouTube. Someone who personally knew Linda saw the video, contacted me, and then placed me in direct contact with Linda. I have been in contact with Linda since. I will tell you more about Linda later, but this is how it all started. I have since learned about the stories of others who are behind bars, like Linda.
Fast forward, a few months later, I was introduced to Rebecca. Rebecca has spent the past 18 years in prison for a life sentence. She pled guilty to first-degree murder. Rebecca was charged under a theory of law known as the felony-murder rule. Under the felony-murder doctrine, the defendant does not need to intend to kill the victim or actually be the one who kills the victim. As long as the victim dies while the defendant is committing or attempting to commit a felony, the state holds the defendant strictly liable for the victim’s death.
Although this rule has been widely criticized as barbaric, parasitic, and downright inconsistent with the notion of culpability and proportionality, which are the bedrock of criminal law, the rule still remains in full force in almost every state, for what appears to be purely political reasons. In a vast majority of states, felony murder is categorized amongst the most serious forms of murder—it is first-degree murder. And the punishment for first-degree murder is death or life in prison without the possibility of parole. Therefore, when faced with the possibility of a death sentence, many defendants plead guilty to avoid going to trial.
This is what happened to Rebecca. Rebecca never killed anyone. Neither did she intend to kill anyone. She was tricked into a robbery by her boyfriend. In fact, she was not even aware that the robbery was happening when it was actually happening. Her boyfriend brought a friend along for the robbery, who ended up killing the victim. Rebecca wanted to go to trial to prove her innocence. But she was manipulated and threatened with a death sentence by her own public defenders. She was told to “either sign the plea deal or die.”
Even in the face of all the threats and manipulations, she agreed to and signed a “no contest” plea. Her plea was later changed to “guilty” without her consent. And her subsequent motion to withdraw the guilty plea two days after she appeared before a judge was denied without any explanations.
Friends, I have not even begun to scratch the surface of how wrongfully the system has treated Rebecca. And prepare yourself for the shock waves that will run through you once you hear the full account of her story, and see the documents to back it up.
But for now, there is great news for Rebecca. Florida senator, Randolph Bracy, has introduced a new senate bill, Senate Bill 478 (2021) into the Florida senate. Should this bill pass, Rebecca will have a very high chance of being free. This bill limits the scope of liability in felony murder cases to defendants who either;
1- Actually killed the victim;
2- Who were not the actual killers, but with intent to kill, helped the killer kill the victim; or
3- Who were major participants in the underlining felony and acted with reckless indifference to human life.
California passed a similar bill, SB 1437 (Cal. Penal Code § 1170.95 ), which took effect on January 1, 2019. Since Florida’s felony murder statute is identical to California’s felony murder statute, there is ample hope that Florida will follow California and also pass SB 478 to help free defendants like Rebecca.
Irrespective of the outcome of this bill, the fight for Rebecca will still continue. Please stay tuned for the full accounts of Rebecca’s story. I will be sharing the full details here!
In the meantime, if you will like to contact me about Rebecca’s case, please do so HERE