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Nullus commondum capere protest de injuria sua propria is a policy of the common law that no one shall be allowed to profit by his own wrong.
Defendant and his wife owned a residence as tenants by the entirety and certain stock as joint tenants. Defendant husband killed his wife and thereafter pleaded non vult to an indictment for second degree murder. In her will the wife named as her sole beneficiary a the Damon Runyon Memorial Fund for Cancer Research, Inc. Plaintiff Alberta A. Neiman, as executrix of the decedent, sought a declaration as to the rights of the fund and defendant and as to three loans given from decedent wife to defendant. The defendant contended that the title to both the realty and the corporate stock vested in him on his wife's death. The trial court ruled that the decedent having met her death at the hands of the defendant, the title to the realty was vested in him as trustee for himself individually and for the Cancer Fund, with the fund's interest being an absolute one-half interest and a remainder interest in the other half, subject only to the value of the life estate of the defendant in such half. The trial court also ruled that the executrix had not proved her case as to the loans except for one loan which the defendant admitted. Defendant appealed.
Could a murderer acquire by right of survivorship and keep property the title to which he had held jointly with his victim?
The court held that to permit the murderer to retain title to the property acquired by his crime as permitted in some states was abhorrent to even the most rudimentary sense of justice. According to the court, to permit the murderer to retain title to the property acquired by his crime would violate the policy of common law that no one shall be allowed to profit by his own wrong. On the other hand, it was admitted that divesting the surviving murderer of all legal title would violate the doctrine of vested rights and would conflict with N.J.S. 2A:152-2. Hence, the court concluded that applying the equitable doctrine of a constructive trust force was given to the sound principle of equity that a murderer or other wrongdoer shall not enrich himself by his inequity at the expense of an innocent person. Accordingly, the court held that both as to the realty and the corporate stock the Cancer Fund is entitled in equity to an absolute one-half interest and a remainder interest in the other half, subject only to the value of the life estate of the defendant in such half. Thus the defendant will hold the realty in trust for the Cancer Fund subject to a lien thereon for the commuted value at the time of the decedent's death of the net income of one-half of the real property for the number of years of his expectancy of life as determined according to the mortality tables used in the courts. Likewise the defendant will hold the shares of stock in trust for the Cancer Fund subject to the commuted value at the date of the decedent's death of the net income of one-half of the shares of stock for the number of years of defendant's expectancy of life as determined according to the mortality tables.