Sunday, July 27, 2008

DA's Brief Opposing Cuadra's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (XII. Commission of Robbery After the Victim is Deceased)

XII. Commission of Robbery After the Victim is Deceased

It is a well and long-standing principle in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that when a killing is used to effectuate a robbery, it is immaterial that the intent to kill preceded the intent to rob. Commonwealth v. Perkins 373 A.2d 1076, 1082 (Pa. 1977). This is so because “the force resulting in death is the force used to accomplish the robbery.” ld. Pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S.A. §3701(a), a person is guilty of robbery if, in the course of committing a theft, he:

(i) inflicts serious bodily injury upon another;

(ii) threatens another with or intentionally puts him in fear of immediate serious bodily injury;

(iii) commits or threatens immediately to commit any felony of the first or second degree;

(iv) inflicts bodily injury upon another or threatens another with or intentionally puts him in fear of immediate bodily injury; or

(v) physically takes or removes property from the person of another by force however slight.

(2) An act shall be deemed "in the course of committing a theft” if it occurs in an attempt to commit theft or in flight after the attempt or commission.

l8 Pa.C.S.A, § 3701

The foregoing subsections have been interpreted by the court to reflect a liberal standard when consideration is given to the amount of force used in furtherance of the crime of robbery. In Commonwealth v. Brown, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania noted:

It is clear. . .that any amount of force applied to a person while committing a theft brings that act within the scope of robbery under § 3701(l)(a)(v). This force, of course, may be either actual or constructive, Actual force is applied to the body; constructive force is the use of threatening words or gestures, and operates on the mind. Commonwealth v. Snelling, 4 Binn, at 383.

The degree of actual force is immaterial, so long as it is sufficient to separate the victim from his property in, on or about his body. Any injury to the victim, or any struggle to obtain the property, or any resistance on his part which requires a greater counter attack to effect the taking is sufficient. The same is true if the force used, although insufficient to frighten the victim, surprises him into yielding his property.

Commonwealth v. Brown 484 A.2d 738, 741 (Pa.,1984), emphasis added.

“A long line of cases have held that the felony-murder doctrine is applicable regardless of whether the defendant’s intent to rob the victim occurred prior to the killing or not.” Commonwealth v. O’Brien 417 A.2d 236 (Pa.Super. 1979). See also Commonwealth v. Perkins supra; Commonwealth v. Butcher 304 A.2d 150 (Pa. 1973); Commonwealth v. Tomlinson 284 A.2d 687 (Pa. 1971).

In Commonwealth v. Kesting 417 A.2d 1262 (Pa.Super. 1979), the defendant argued that the evidence must show that it was the intent of the actor to commit a theft when the injury or threat of injury was inflicted, The court disagreed however, citing the decision in Perkins and noting that neither robbery cases or “analogous cases dealing with felony-murder have required an exact contemporaneity of the assault and the intent to steal,” Kesting at 1269. The court also noted that a defendant intending to commit another crime:

is guilty of robbery if in the course of the commission or attempt to commit the other crime he forms the intent of robbery and does rob. When the defendant took property from the victim after he had beaten him in a fight, he is guilty of robbery without regard to whether he had formed the intent of taking the property after he had beaten the victim.

Kesting 417 A.2d 1262,1269 (Pa.Super., 1979), citing Wharton, Criminal Law, Vol. 2, s 578.

Based on all the foregoing authority, it is clearthat a robbery charge can be supported when a theft occurs subsequent toa murder.