People v. Aaron

299 N.W.2d 304 (Mich. 1980)

Facts

Aaron (D1), Thompson (D2), and Wright (D3) were involved in the commission of felonies during which homicides occurred. D2 was convicted by a jury of first-degree felony murder as the result of a death which occurred during an armed robbery. The trial judge instructed the jury that it was not necessary for the prosecution to prove malice, as a finding of intent to rob was all that was necessary for the homicide to constitute first-degree murder. The Court of Appeals held that reversible error resulted from the trial court's failure to instruct the jury on the element of malice in the felony-murder charge. D3 was convicted by a jury of two counts of first-degree felony murder for setting fire to a dwelling causing the death of two people. The trial court instructed the jury that proof that the killings occurred during the perpetration of arson was sufficient to establish first-degree murder. The Court of Appeals reversed the convictions, holding that it was error to remove the element of malice from the jury's consideration. D1 was convicted of first-degree felony murder as a result of a homicide committed during the perpetration of an armed robbery. The jury was instructed that they could convict defendant of first-degree murder if they found that D1 killed the victim during the commission or attempted commission of an armed robbery. The trial court refused D1's request to instruct on lesser included offenses. The Court of Appeals affirmed, and the state supreme court remanded the case to the trial court for entry of a judgment of conviction of the lesser included offense of second-degree murder and for resentencing. D1 subsequently filed an application for reconsideration with the State Supreme Court. Their separate appeals were combined before the Michigan Supreme Court. In each case, the defendant's criminal intent was only sufficient to support the commission of the underlying felonies, and they acted without any intent to kill, to inflict great bodily harm, or without reckless or wanton disregard for human life. Their appeal challenged the application of the common law felony murder rule because Michigan had no statutory felony-murder rule. The State (P) argued that even without a statutory rule, the common-law definition of murder included homicide in the course of a felony.