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High court's interpretation of felony murder statute cuts prosecutors short

Last month, we wrote that a grand jury in East Baton Rouge declined to issue an indictment against two men for murder stemming from a January 14 homicide of a third man who was a relative. According to the prosecutor in the case, the three men had attempted to rob another man who was purchasing drugs from them and who shot at the three after being attacked. A bystander also apparently shot at the three men as an act of defense, which complicated the ability of prosecutors to pursue charges.

If it hadn't been for the intervention of the teenage boy, the surviving men would have been charged, according to the prosecutor. A similar case recently occurred in Baton Rouge in which, police claim, a man was responsible for the death of his accomplice during a botched armed robbery. The man has been charged with second degree murder, but it isn't clear that the charged can be sustained.

In Louisiana, at present, unless the participants in a crime are involved in the killing, they cannot be charged under the felony murder statute. This is because of the way the Louisiana Supreme Court has interpreted the state's felony murder statute. According to the court, an individual can only be charged under the statute if the killing was perpetrated by somebody concurrently involved in a felony.

That decision, from 1959, had called on lawmakers to amend language in the statute so that a defendant or principal with the defendant can be held responsible for a killing caused by the actions of a victim or bystander not connected to the underlying felony. But the statute was never changed.

In these types of cases, it can be difficult for criminal defendants to know what exactly they are guilty for. Prosecutors love to pile on charges, and it can be overwhelming to sort through it all. Having an advocate who understands the law and build a solid defense is critical in fighting these charges.

Source: The Advocate, "Old legal ruling affects murder law in Louisiana," Kimberly Vetter, June 20, 2012

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