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When an Accidental Killing is Murder

Posted on by Townsend Myers

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A state grand jury has indicted a New Orleans man in an attempted robbery in Algiers that resulted in the death of his alleged accomplice, Dominick Kent. reported the story yeaterday. Mervin Higgins, 21, faces charges of second-degree murder, attempted murder and armed robbery with a firearm.

He is accused of killing the 17-year-old Kent, and shooting another man while attempting to strip him of his wallet near the Algiers ferry landing on Dec. 14, 2011. Higgins allegedly shot Kent inadvertently as the three men fought and grappled. Police found Kent lying on the ground with several gunshot wounds.

The story illustrates some interesting points about criminal law that some people may not be familiar with. A second degree murder in Louisiana is defined generally under Louisiana Revised Statute 14:30.1 as “the killing of a human being… [w]hen the offender has a specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm.” On the other hand, an accidental killing would be considered a manslaughter, defined under La. R.S. 14:31 as a “homicide committed without any intent to cause death or great bodily harm”.

However, there are two theories that would suggest that even an accidental killing under the circumstances of this case could be charged as a murder. The first is the doctrine of transferred intent, which means that when the intention to harm one individual inadvertently causes a second person to be hurt instead, the individual causing the harm will be seen as having intended the act toward the second person.

The second theory is that of the so-called felony murder doctrine. Under La. R.S. 14:30.1, a killing committed “[w]hen the offender is engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of … an armed robbery” is a second degree murder, even if the offender has no intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm.

In this case,  the allegation is that Higgins was involved in the perpetration of an armed robbery when his accomplice was allegedly shot. There is also the potential that he intended to shoot the victim of the armed robbery, but shot his accomplice instead. As we see then, under either theory, there is a valid prosecution for second degree murder even though the shooting in this case was clearly accidentally.




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