Vicarious Liability and the Death Penalty in TX & VA

It's common for states to rely on theories of vicarious liability (conspiracy and aider-or-abettor laws, for instance) to treat everyone who played a role in a crime as if they are equally as guilty as the individual who directly committed the crime. The getaway car driver and the lookout and the person who planned the heist are deemed just as guilty of bank robbery as the guy who instructs the teller to hand over the cash.

Vicarious liability becomes controversial when the death penalty is imposed on individuals who played some role in causing a death but didn't take direct action to end a life. A legislator in Texas has introduced a bill to eliminate the death penalty as a possible penalty under the state's Law of Parties.

[Rep. Harold] Dutton said there have been at least 12 people executed under the Law of Parties and possibly as many as 20.

The Virginia General Assembly voted yesterday to do just the opposite by eliminating the state's "triggerman rule," which restricts imposition of the death penalty to the person who actually did the killing. Gov. Kaine is expected to veto the bill.

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    depends on the crime (none / 0) (#1)
    by plutosdad on Wed Feb 25, 2009 at 09:53:59 AM EST
    I think it really depends on the crime and maybe even on a case by case basis. If the crime is conspiracy to commit murder or bombing, etc, then they are guilty, since they knew what would happen and helped.

    If the crime is to rob a bank and people get killed, it becomes greyer.

    However, it's pretty reasonable to conclude if you're going to rob a bank that violence will ensue. So can that other person really say "I had no idea this would go down this way"? Of course they had the idea but they got involved anyway.

    Though I guess it can be a case by case basis as well. The fact that they could be charged equally will convince the other people involved to plea bargain for a lesser charge and testify.

    Pretty much exactly what I was thinking. (none / 0) (#2)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Feb 25, 2009 at 11:35:12 AM EST
    First off, I am opposed to the death penalty.  But, if states are going to have it, I absolutely believe that someone who is the mastermind behind a murder should be eligible for the death penalty the same as the person who carried it out.  I do not, however, think it is right to give the death penalty to someone who was an accomplice to a felony that resulted in a murder.

    If some guy hires a hit man to kill someone, he should be eligible for the death penalty the same as the hitman.  If another guy agrees to drive the getaway car in a robbery, and one of the robbers kills someone during the robbery, I don't think the getaway driver should be eligible for the death penalty.

    I also am firmly against any application of the felony murder rule at all when one of the participants in the crime is the one who ends up being killed.

    I oppose (none / 0) (#4)
    by MrConservative on Wed Feb 25, 2009 at 05:05:19 PM EST
    the felony murder rule at all.  You should be responsible for your actions and your actions alone.  And if you make the argument "you knew it could've resulted in death..." then why not slap everyone who participates in a robbery with murder charges?  Every robber took the same risks to life as the guy driving the getaway car, they all had the same exact level of intent.  IMHO, intent is much more important in determining guilt than result.  That's the difference between murder and manslaughter.  If the felony murder rule is to apply at all, it should only hand out manslaughter charges to accomplices, because the getaway driver had no malice.

    It's an idiotic anachronism from an outdated definition of "malice", and it's just another excuse to appease death-hungry Republicans.