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Law School Case Brief

Jackson v. State - 286 Md. 430, 408 A.2d 711 (1979)


At common law, homicide arising in the perpetration of, or in the attempt to perpetrate, a felony is murder whether death was intended or not, the fact that the person was engaged in such perpetration or attempt being sufficient to supply the element of malice. The doctrine has repeatedly been recognized and applied in this country, and is to be regarded as still in force, except where it has been expressly abrogated by statute. The doctrine has not been abrogated by statute in Maryland.


After robbing a jewelry store, defendants William Henry Jackson and James Wells, Jr., who were armed with handguns, kidnapped two hostages and fled from police. As police chased the car in which defendants were escaping, an officer's shotgun accidentally discharged and killed one of the hostages. Defendants pleaded guilty to murder in the first degree. Consequently, the trial court convicted defendants, which was affirmed by the Court of Special Appeals. On appeal, the defendants argued that the trial court improperly accepted their pleas because the state failed to demonstrate that they were guilty of the crime for which the plea was entered.


Were the defendants liable for first-degree murder when a law enforcement officer, who attempted to apprehend the defendants, accidentally killed one of the hostages?




According to the Court, even though the fatal shot was not fired by defendants, their behavior established such a causal relationship with respect to the death as to make them criminally liable therefor. Furthermore, in light of defendants' criminal agency, the killing constituted murder in the first degree. In light with this, the Court held that the factual statement serving as a basis for the plea of guilty of murder in the first-degree entered by each of the defendants demonstrated guilt of the crime for which the plea was entered, and that the pleas were properly accepted by the trial court.

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