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The Eighth Amendment does not permit the imposition of the death penalty on one who aids and abets a felony in the course of which a murder is committed by others but who does not himself kill, attempt to kill, or intend that a killing take place or that lethal force will be employed.
Earl Enmund and a codefendant, at a jury trial in a Florida court, were convicted of first-degree murder and robbery of two elderly persons at their farmhouse, and were sentenced to death. The Florida Supreme Court affirmed. The court held that, although the record supported no more than the inference that Enmund was the person in a car parked by the side of the road near the farmhouse at the time of the killings waiting to help the robbers and killers (the codefendant and another) escape, this was enough under Florida law to make Enmund a constructive aider and abettor and hence a principal in first-degree murder upon whom the death penalty could be imposed. It was thus irrelevant to Enmund’s challenge to the death sentence that he did not himself kill and was not present at the killings, or whether he intended that the victims be killed or anticipated that lethal force might be used to effectuate the robbery or escape.
Did the imposition of death penalty on person who aids and abets felony in course of which murder is committed by others but who does not himself kill, attempt to kill, or intend to kill violate Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments?
The Court reversed and remanded his death sentence, holding that capital punishment was not appropriate for defendant. Enmund was a participant in a robbery in which his codefendant killed the two victims. There was no evidence that Enmund either killed or intended to kill the victims, or that he intended that deadly force be used. Only eight jurisdictions allowed for the imposition of the death penalty for those convicted of vicarious felony murder. Allowing capital punishment in such cases did not serve either the deterrence or the retribution purpose of capital punishment and violated the Eighth Amendment.