State v. Maudlin

The Facts

Defendant accused of killing victim while in the commission of felony distribution of drugs.  Defendant argues that the victim was not killed nor died while he was perpetrating or attempting to perpetrate the crime.  Defendant sold victims heroin.  The victims injected themselves with a shot of heroin and died from their overdose.

Procedural History

Convicted at trial.  Reversed on appeal

Relevant Statute

“Murder in the first degree is the killing of a human being committed maliciously, willfully, deliberately and with premeditation or committed in the perpetration or attempt to perpetrate any felony.”

The Issue

Whether death by overdose of a drug sold by a defendant constitutes killing of a human being in the perpetration or attempt to perpetrate a felony.

The Holding

No, judgment affirmed.  State courts have ruled “that there must be a direct causal relation between the commission of the felony and the homicide.”  It is no defense that the victim injected themselves with the substance which resulted in their death.  “The result is the controlling factor.”  The court considers the deterrence of selling heroine as a desirable factor as well, but there “must be a closer and more direct causal connection between criminal conduct and a homicide than is required by the tort concept of proximate cause.”  The conviction would likely be sustained where the defendant directly injects the victim with the substance.  “The clear import of the language of the statute cannot be broadened so as to encompass felony murder upon the facts presented herein.”

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