Wednesday, November 13, 2013

PA Supreme Court says yes to third degree murder conspiracy

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has determined that conspiracy to commit third-degree murder is a cognizable offense, reported The Legal Intelligencer.

A divided court ruled 4-2 on Oct. 30 to reverse the Superior Court's finding in Commonwealth v. Fisher that because third-degree murder indicates an absence of intent to commit murder, conspiracy to commit third-degree murder is an illogical, noncognizable charge.

Writing the majority opinion, Justice J. Michael Eakin said the Superior Court's assertion was premised on a misreading of the statute. According to Eakin, third-degree murder is not simply unintentional killing; it is a malicious, intentional act that can result in death, and therefore may be the object of a conspiracy. "True, the intent to kill is a defined element of first-degree murder—this does not mean an element of third-degree murder is the polar opposite of intent to kill, such that the commonwealth must prove a lack of intent to kill to convict of third-degree murder," he said. "Evidence of intent to kill is simply irrelevant to third-degree murder.

The elements of third-degree murder absolutely include an intentional act, but not an act defined by the statute as intentional murder. The act for third-degree is still a purposeful one, committed with malice, which results in death—clearly, one can conspire to such an intentional act."

Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille and Justices Max Baer and Seamus P. McCaffery joined the majority, with Justice Debra M. Todd filing a dissenting opinion and Justice Thomas G. Saylor joining.

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