Murder; it’s the most serious criminal crime.  And as the most serious crime, it can carry the most severe punishment – death.  Because the punishment cannot be reversed (once you’re dead, you’re dead), courts tend to have many different safeguards to prevent an innocent person being sentenced to death.  However, the Supreme Court has ruled that a non-intentional killing should not carry the death penalty.  In fact, the Supreme Court said that the death penalty is prohibited to those, “who does not himself kill, attempt to kill, or intend that a killing take place or that lethal force may be employed.” This seems somewhat straight-forward (you have to try to kill someone to get the death penalty), but there are some wrinkles in this ruling for accomplices.  Usually, an accomplice is just as responsible for the crime as the perpetrator, but the courts have made a few exceptions.

Should A Getaway Driver Ever Be Sentenced To Death?

When a person is a getaway driver for someone who commits a crime, they can be charged with many elements of the crime that was committed, despite the fact they were not physically involved.  This is known as accomplice liability.  However, in a famous case, the state was not allowed to seek the death penalty for the getaway driver who had waited in a getaway car while two accomplices went into a farmhouse and murdered the elderly couple who lived there.  Since the getaway driver had not committed the killing or desired it (he was only guilty of murder by combining the felony-murder rule and accomplice liability together), the court decided it would be “cruel and unusual punishment” for D to be treated the same as if he had caused the harm intentionally.

Should A Person Be Sentenced To Death If They Knew Their Partner In Crime Was Going To Kill Someone?

Many times, an accomplice will claim that they didn’t know their partner was going to kill someone.  However, if the prosecution can show that the person knew the principal may kill someone in order to successfully commit their crime (like shooting the cashier while attempting to rob a store), the person can still be sentenced to the death penalty.  For example, in another famous case, the two defendants were brothers who helped their father, Gary, escape from prison.  They gave Gary a gun and a getaway car knowing that Gary was willing to kill anyone who tried to stop his escape.  Even though the brothers were miles away from Gary when he killed four victims, the brothers could be sentenced to death since they showed an extreme indifference to the value of human life.

What do you think?  Should someone be sentenced to death even if they are barely involved in a crime?