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State v. McClain

Decided: April 13, 1993.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
RONALD MCCLAIN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Somerset County.

Brody, Landau and Thomas. The opinion of the court was delivered by Brody, J.A.D.

Brody

Following a jury trial defendant was convicted as an accomplice of felony murder, a violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(3). The trial Judge imposed a prison sentence of thirty years without parole, the mandatory minimum term for the crime. The accomplice had wrenched a pocketbook from the grasp of a 69-year-old woman while she was walking on the sidewalk. The pocketbook's shoulder strap broke in the struggle. The woman thereafter began to chase the robber, but could not keep up. Soon after help arrived, she suffered a cardiac arrest. Although resuscitated, she never regained consciousness and died seven months later. Medical evidence and evidence of her demeanor and appearance immediately before the heart attack support the jury's implicit finding that the victim died of fright and stress caused by the robbery.

The primary defense was alibi. Another defense was that the robbery did not cause the victim's death. The jury obviously rejected the alibi defense and found that the robbery had caused the death. The central issue on appeal is whether the

trial Judge adequately charged the jury respecting the causation issue.

We have two briefs from defendant, one his attorney's brief and the other defendant's pro se supplemental brief. The attorney's brief raises the following points:

I. THE TRIAL COURT FAILED TO INSTRUCT THE JURY AS TO THE "REMOTENESS" ELEMENT OF FELONY MURDER, THEREBY DEPRIVING THE DEFENDANT OF HIS DUE PROCESS RIGHT TO A FAIR TRIAL. U.S. CONST. AMEND. XIV; N.J. CONST., (1947), ART. I, PAR 1. (Not Raised Below.)

II. THE TRIAL COURT DEPRIVED THE DEFENDANT OF HIS CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS TO A REPRESENTATIVE JURY AND EQUAL PROTECTION BY DISMISSING, WITHOUT AN EVIDENTIARY HEARING, THE DEFENDANT'S CHALLENGE TO THE RACIAL COMPOSITION OF THE JURY judges. U.S. CONST. AMENDS. VI, XIV; N.J. CONST. (1947) ART. I, PARAS. 1, 5.

III. THE 30-YEAR MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCE IMPOSED IN THIS CASE CONSTITUTES CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT, IN VIOLATION OF THE CONSTITUTIONS OF THE UNITED STATES AND OUR STATE. U.S. CONST. AMENDS. VIII, XIV; N.J. CONST. (1947), ART. I, PAR. 12.

Defendant's pro se supplemental brief raises these points:

I. THE EVIDENCE PRESENTED WAS LEGALLY INSUFFICIENT TO CONVICT DEFENDANT OF FELONY MURDER OR ANY FORM OF HOMICIDE.

II. DEFENDANT'S STATE AND FEDERAL CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS TO A FAIR TRIAL AND AN IMPARTIAL AND PROPERLY INSTRUCTED JURY WERE VIOLATED WHEN THE TRIAL JURY WAS INSTRUCTED ONLY ON THE OFFENSE OF PURPOSEFUL AND KNOWING MURDER.

III. BY IMPROPERLY VOUCHING FOR THE CREDIBILITY OF THE STATE'S WITNESSES, THE STATE DEPRIVED DEFENDANT OF HIS DUE PROCESS RIGHT TO A FAIR TRIAL. (U.S. CONST. AMEND. XIV; N.J. CONST. (1947) ART. I, PAR. 10) (Not Raised Below) AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT.

We are satisfied from a careful review of this record that the issues raised in defendant's supplemental brief are clearly without merit and require no further Discussion. R. 2:11-3(e)(2).

Felony murder is an absolute-liability crime because the actor need not have contemplated or consciously risked the victim's death. State v. ...


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