The court is considering whether a defendant can be held responsible for felony murder when a co-felon is killed by the victim during a robbery. The court must determine the legislative intent behind the ensues clause in the statute and whether it expands the class of victims to include all killings within the res gestae of the felony. The majority view in the US is that the felony murder rule does not apply if a killing is directly caused by someone other than the defendant or those associated with the unlawful enterprise. The court refused to extend liability to instances where the deceased was a co-felon. The content and history of N.J.S.A. 2A:113-2 further supports the interpretation of the "ensues" clause in N.J.S.A. 2A:113-1.
Although Justice Sullivan agrees with the end result of the legal case, he disagrees with the way in which the majority interpreted the felony murder statute. According to the majority, a felon cannot be held criminally responsible for any killing that occurs during the commission of a felony as long as the felon or a confederate did not commit the killing. Justice Sullivan argues that the legislative intent of the statute is to hold the criminal responsible for any killing that occurs during the felony, regardless of the perpetrator, with the exception of the death of a co-felon, which could be considered justifiable homicide. He suggests that the Legislature should clarify the matter by either expanding the felony murder statute to include killings committed by someone other than the felon or confederate, or by charging the felon with manslaughter in addition to the felony. In agreement with the result only, Justice Pashman joins this opinion.
The Appellate Division's decision in the case, which extends criminal liability under the "ensues clause" and proximate cause theory to death caused by the initiation and furtherance of a felony, is supported by the dissenting opinion. The theory makes felons responsible for any death that results from the initial criminal act, regardless of the intent behind it, and also includes deaths resulting from resistance. While the decision was affirmed by one justice, six others modified it.
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