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Law School Case Brief

People v. Hernandez - 82 N.Y.2d 309, 604 N.Y.S.2d 524, 624 N.E.2d 661 (1993)

Rule:

New York law is clear that felony murder does not embrace any killing that is coincidental with the felony, but instead is limited to those deaths caused by one of the felons in furtherance of their crime. More than civil tort liability must be established. Criminal liability will adhere only when the felons' acts are a sufficiently direct cause of the death. When the intervening acts of another party are supervening or unforeseeable, the necessary causal chain is broken, and there is no liability for the felons.

Facts:

Defendants were convicted of second degree murder, attempted second degree murder, attempted robbery, criminal use of firearm, criminal possession of weapon, and attempted aggravated assault upon police officer; the prosecution used the felony murder rule, N.Y. Penal Law § 125.25(3), to obtain the convictions for murder even though the homicide victim, a police officer, was shot, not by one of the defendants, but by a fellow officer during a gun battle following defendants' attempted robbery. The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in the First Judicial Department (New York) affirmed the convictions, and defendants sought further review, arguing that the use of the felony murder rule  was improper. 

Issue:

Did sufficient evidence support defendant's conviction under the felony murder rule when the evidence deduced at trial demonstrated that the bullet that killed the victim was from a police officer's gun?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

Although the court held that felony murder did not embrace any killing that occurred during the commission of a felony but rather, was limited to liability for deaths caused by one of the felons in furtherance of the crime, criminal liability adhered only when the felons' acts were a sufficiently direct cause of the death. In affirming the conviction, the court said the intervening act of the police officer in shooting was not supervening or unforeseeable, the necessary causal chain was not broken, and there was liability for the felons under the felony murder rule.

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