From Adam Liptak in the December 4th edition of the New York Times comes this very strange, to me, story of American justice.
"CRAWFORDVILLE, Fla. — Early in the morning of March 10, 2003, after a raucous party that lasted into the small hours, a groggy and hungover 20-year-old named Ryan Holle lent his Chevrolet Metro to a friend. That decision, prosecutors later said, was tantamount to murder."
The friend used Ryan's car to drive three other men to the place where they intended to commit a burglary. Ryan was a mile and a half away at the time. The burglary went wrong and the eighteen year-old daughter of the marijuana dealer, they were robbing, was killed. It did not matter to the prosecution that Ryan was not there:
"He was convicted of murder under a distinctively American legal doctrine that makes accomplices as liable as the actual killer for murders committed during felonies like burglaries, rapes and robberies."
This is how the prosecutor justified the charge of murder against Ryan Holle.
"A prosecutor explained the theory to the jury at Mr. Holle’s trial in Pensacola in 2004. “No car, no crime,” said the prosecutor, David Rimmer. “No car, no consequences. No car, no murder"
"Most scholars trace the doctrine, which is an aspect of the felony murder rule, to English common law, but Parliament abolished it in 1957. The felony murder rule, which has many variations, generally broadens murder liability for participants in violent felonies in two ways. An unintended killing during a felony is considered murder under the rule. So is, as Mr. Holle learned, a killing by an accomplice.
India and other common law countries have followed England in abolishing the doctrine. In 1990, the Canadian Supreme Court did away with felony murder liability for accomplices, saying it violated “the principle that punishment must be proportionate to the moral blameworthiness of the offender.”
Countries outside the common law tradition agree. “The view in Europe,” said James Q. Whitman, a professor of comparative law at Yale, “is that we hold people responsible for their own acts and not the acts of others.”This seems to be a reasonable view, "..we hold people responsible for their own acts and not the acts of others."
Especially not the acts of others, I would say, over which the person had no control and during which the person wasn't there.
"About 16 percent of homicides in 2006 occurred during felonies, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Statistics concerning how many of those killings led to the murder prosecutions of accomplices are not available, but legal experts say such prosecutions are relatively common in the more than 30 states that allow them. About 80 people have been sentenced to death in the last three decades for participating in a felony that led to a murder though they did not kill anyone."
Ryan Holle was not participating in a felony, though. After a raucous party, Ryan Holle lent his car to a friend, who subsequently used the car to drive to the scene of a crime.
"Mr. Holle, who had given the police a series of statements in which he seemed to admit knowing about the burglary, was convicted of first-degree murder."
He, "seemed to admit."? What kind of evidence is that? He seemed to admit knowing about the burglary, so he was responsible as an accomplice to first-degree murder?
"But Mr. Holle did testify that he had been told it might be necessary to “knock out” Jessica Snyder. Mr. Holle is 25 now, a tall, lean and lively man with a rueful sense of humor, alert brown eyes and an unusually deep voice. In a spare office at the prison here, he said that he had not taken the talk of a burglary seriously.
“I honestly thought they were going to get food,” he said of the men who used his car, all of whom had attended the nightlong party at Mr. Holle’s house, as had Jessica Snyder."New York Times
Jeez! That is justice? A man wakes up with a hangover after a raucous party, lends his car to a friend, thinks they're joking about stealing the safe from the marijuana dealer, and is as guilty as the person who killed the girl?
"Not every state’s version of the felony murder rule is as strict as Florida’s, and a few states, including Hawaii, Kentucky and Michigan, have abolished it entirely.
“The felony-murder rule completely ignores the concept of determination of guilt on the basis of individual misconduct,” the Michigan Supreme Court wrote in 1980."Ryan Holle was the only one of five men charged to be offered a plea deal of ten years in prison, which he turned down. To accept he would have to have accepted culpability for the murder, which he clearly was not prepared to do.
"The laws that they use to convict people are just — they have to revise them,” he said. “Just because I lent these guys my car, why should I be convicted the same as these people that actually went to the scene of the crime and actually committed the crime?"