People v. Johnson

The Facts

Defendant drove his car into and killed victim, who was in her car as well.  Defendant had earlier robbed two men and fled in the stolen vehicle which struck the victim.  Defendant was driving 58 mph at the time of collision.  After collision, defendant fled the scene into a nearby marsh where he was eventually captured.  Defendant told police that he fled “just because I heard the sirens.”  In the defendant’s car police found a gun.  Defendant’s murder charge was enhanced by use of a firearm and that he killed the victim in the commission of two felony robberies.  Defendant later testified that he sped up because he saw a police car, but the car did not have lights or sirens on.  He later denied hearing sirens.  Defendant primarily argues that he had found a place of safety after the crime where he was not being chased by police before the homicide occurred.

Procedural History

Jury convicted of first degree murder with special circumstances.  “He pled guilty to charges of assault with a firearm, vehicle theft, being an ex-felon in possession of a deadly weapon, and two counts of robbery.”

The Issue

Whether based on the facts there was sufficient evidence to support the court’s finding that murder occurred in the commission of two felony robberies.

Whether “the place of temporary safety” is determined on an objective or subjective standard.

The Holding/Reasoning

Yes. “When an officer or citizen is murdered while in immediate pursuit of a robber who flees from the scene of the crime with the fruit of that offense, the killing is in perpetration of the robbery-a crime that is not legally complete until the robber has won his or her way even momentarily to a place of temporary safety.  When the robber is still in flight, he or she has not yet achieved a place of temporary safety.”  There is evidence to support the jury’s finding that the defendant was in constant flight.  The prosecution presented evidence that defendant did not have time to change into the suit he carried, nor did he have time to dispose of his weapon and that it was impossible in terms of timing to have reached the neighborhood he claimed to be the temporary place of safety.  “A fleeing robber’s failure to reach a place of temporary safety is sufficient to establish the continuity of the robbery within the felony-murder rule.”

The objective standard is to be applied.  The defendant must prove that he actually reached a place of safety, rather than that he personally believed he reached a place of safety.  It would be bad policy to make the prosecution prove the defendant’s state of mind that he actually believed himself to have reached a place of safety.

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