First-degree murder charges have been filed against two men who are accused of breaking into cars in a Cooper City neighborhood.
The murder charges stem from the fact that one of the two alleged burglary suspects fled in his car when the police arrived. While driving at a high rate of speed, the alleged burglary suspect struck two bicyclists and killed them.
Under Florida's felony murder rule, the alleged burglary suspect can be charged with first-degree murder. What's surprising to learn is that the co-defendant - who had nothing to do with driving the car into the bicyclists at all - can also be charged with first-degree murder.
This is because the law states that when people engage in the commission of a felony (in this case the felony of burglary of an unoccupied conveyance), the people engaged in the felony can be held criminally responsible for any death that arises due to the commission of the felony.
In other words, since one of the co-defendants fled the scene of the burglary and struck two bicyclists, both he and the co-defendant who did not drive the car (and wasn't even present in the car) can be held responsible for the deaths due to the fact that the deaths occurred while they were escaping from the commission of a felony.
The driver of the car that struck the bicyclists can be charged with murder. However, I think that the state may have a difficult time proving the charge against the alleged burglary suspect who was not present in the car. That's because in order to place the responsibility on all parties, the state must prove that the death was a foreseeable consequence of the felony.
The co-defendant who did not strike the bicyclists can argue that he did not know that the other co-defendant was going to flee in his car and that such an escape plan was never discussed as part of the crime. This defense, however, will require the defendant to concede that he committed the burglary.
Eric Matheny is a Miami criminal attorney and a Broward criminal attorney.