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Dixon v. United States

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Defendant and another individual were about to sell marijuana to Jones. Jones tried to rob Defendant and the other individual. This encountered ended with the other individual’s death. Defendant was indicted for felony murder. Defendant contends that the underlying felony is not clearly dangerous to human life. The trial judge denied Defendant’s motion to dismiss the felony murder charge, and Defendant petitioned for a writ of prohibition/mandamus.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    When deciding if an underlying felony is sufficiently dangerous to the public to support a felony-murder-liability, the court must evaluate the facts on a case-by-case basis.

    Facts.

    When Oronde Mitchell, Defendant, and Cedric Tolbert were in a car, they tried to sell marijuana to Jaquin Jones. Thereafter, Jones tried to rob Mitchell and Tolbert at gunpoint. Ultimately, this encounter ended with Tolbert’s death. Defendant was indicted for a felony murder charge, and the supporting felony murder liability was the unlawful distribution of a controlled substance. Defendant moved to dismiss the felony-murder charge because, under Alabama law, the underlying felony must be clearly dangerous to human life, and, in his case, it was not. The trial judge denied the motion, and Defendant petitioned for a writ of prohibition/mandamus.

    Issue.

    Is the decision of whether an underlying felony is sufficiently dangerous to the public to support a felony-murder-liability is a situation that must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

    Held.

    Yes, the decision of whether an underlying felony is sufficiently dangerous to the public to support a felony-murder-liability is a situation that the court must evaluate on a case-by-case basis.

    Discussion.

    When deciding if an underlying felony is sufficiently dangerous to the public to support a felony-murder-liability, the court must evaluate the facts on a case-by-case basis. Pursuant to Alabama law, felony murder has occurred when one is killed in during and in furtherance of an enumerated felony or any other felony clearly dangerous to human life. To determine whether a felony is clearly dangerous to human life, the court may evaluate two things. First, a minority rule, if the underlying felony can be accomplished in a manner that is not dangerous to human life, it is not sufficient. The facts of the case are not taken into account. Second, under the majority rule, the facts of the case are taken into consideration by the fact finder to determine if there is a sufficient danger to human life. Alabama courts have not expressly adopted a specific approach. Here, Defendant contends that this court should adopt the minority rule, the abstract rule. Further, under abstract rule, the felony charged, unlawful distribution of a controlled substance, is not clearly dangerous to human life, and is, therefore, insufficient to support felony-murder liability. Nevertheless, this court believes that the majority rule, fact based rule, is a better, more logical approach for Alabama law. Therefore, under the fact-based rule, the fact finder must consider the factual circumstances surrounding the charge. Further, Defendant’s indictment is valid, and Defendant’s petition is denied.


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