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Criminal Jury Instructions

Criminal Jury Instructions Home

5.4-3  Arson Murder -- § 53a-54d

Revised to December 1, 2007

Note:  The court should instruct the jury on the charged underlying arson prior to this instruction.

The defendant is charged [in count ___] with arson murder.  The statute defining this offense reads in pertinent part as follows: 

a person is guilty of arson murder when, acting either alone or with one or more persons, (he/she) commits arson and, in the course of such arson, causes the death of a person.

For you to find the defendant guilty of this charge, the state must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:  

Element 1 - Committed arson
The first element is that the defendant, acting alone or with one or more other persons, committed or attempted to commit arson.  Proof of this element will depend on your deliberations pertaining to count <insert number of count charging arson> on which I have already instructed you.  If you find the defendant guilty of arson in count <insert number of count charging underlying arson>, then this element of arson murder will be proven.
 

Element 2 - Caused the death of another person
The second element is that the defendant caused the death of <insert name of decedent>.  Thus, if during the actual commission of the arson, the defendant caused the death of <insert name of decedent>, then the defendant is guilty of arson murder.  It does not matter that the defendant did not intend to cause the death.
 

Element 3 - In the course of committing arson
The third element is that the defendant or another participant caused the death of <insert name of decedent> while in the course of the commission of the crime of arson.  This means that the death occurred during the commission of the arson and in the course of carrying out its objective.

"In the course of the commission" of the arson means during any part of defendant's participation in the arson; thus, the death of <insert name of decedent> must have occurred somewhere within the time span of the occurrence of the facts which constitute the arson.  The phrase "in the course of the commission" is a time limitation and means conduct occurring immediately before or during the commission of the arson.

It does not matter that the act that caused the death was committed unintentionally or accidentally, rather than with the intention to cause death, nor does it matter if the death was the result of <insert name of decedent>'s fear or flight.  The defendant is as guilty when committing this form of murder as (he/she) would be if (he/she) had intentionally committed the act that caused the death. 

Element 4 - Victim was not a participant
The third element is that <insert name of decedent> was not a participant in the commission of the arson.
 

Conclusion
In summary, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that 1) the defendant, acting alone or with one or more persons, committed the crime of arson, 2) during the course of committing arson, the defendant caused the death of <insert name of decedent>, and 3) <insert name of decedent> was not a participant in the commission of the arson.

If you unanimously find that the state has proved beyond a reasonable doubt each of the elements of the crime of arson murder, then you shall find the defendant guilty.  On the other hand, if you unanimously find that the state has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt any of the elements, you shall then find the defendant not guilty.

Commentary

"Intent to cause death is not an element of the crime of arson murder.  Arson murder has no mens rea requirement beyond that of an intention to commit the underlying crime of arson upon which the charge of arson murder is predicated."  State v. Dupree, 196 Conn. 655, 663, cert. denied, 474 U.S. 951, 106 S.Ct. 318, 88 L.Ed.2d 301 (1985).

"The phrase 'in the course of ' focuses on the temporal relationship between the murder and the underlying felony."  (Internal quotation marks omitted.)  State v. Williams, 65 Conn. App. 59, 89, cert. denied, 258 Conn. 923 (2001).  Our Supreme Court defines "the phrase 'in the course of' to include the period immediately before or after the actual commission of the crime."  Id., 90.  The omission of the phrase "in furtherance of," which is found in the felony murder statute, indicates "a legislative recognition that when the arsonist himself causes a death during the course of committing that crime it would be a rare case where the death would not also be 'in furtherance' of the arson."  State v. Young, 191 Conn. 636, 644 (1983). 

Capital felony
Arson murder cannot be the predicate crime to a charge of capital felony.  State v. Harrell, 238 Conn. 828, 839 (1996).
 


 

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