The Moral of This Story?


Back a few years ago, Ryan Holle lent his car to his roommate, and then went to bed; something he’d done many times before. What happened next?

He had lent his car to his roommate many times before with no negative consequences. This time the roommate and others went to a house where they knew a woman was selling marijuana from a safe. They planned to get the marijuana, but in the course of their break-in a teenage girl was killed.

Yikes! Well, clearly the roommate and whomever else was involved needed to get into some serious trouble with the law for this, yes? And they did. They were punished, and went to prison. That’ll learn ’em not to kill people! But also punished, and sentenced to prison, for life, and without the possibility of parole, was Ryan Holle, who is now eleven years into that sentence. That’ll…learn him to…not…loan out his car? I guess?

Yes, thanks to a horribly ill-advised and downright wrong concept known as the Felony Murder Rule, Holle is stuck in prison for the rest of his life, for loaning someone a vehicle that was used as part of a crime where someone was killed.

Now I think all but the most brain-dead among us can agree that this is not fair, and that he shouldn’t spend a single day more in prison. I hope we can also agree he shouldn’t have gone to prison in the first place. This is a serious miscarriage of justice, and not only should be be freed, but the rule that leads to unintended consequences such as this needs to be done away with.

Of course we live in a democracy full of under-informed, easily-swayed voters (and, most often, non-voters), who don’t really bother to learn the facts. I can guarantee you that if an elected official stepped up tomorrow and pardoned Holle, that elected official would see that used against her in an upcoming election. She would be described as being “soft on crime” and “coddling criminals”. There’s every chance it might cost her the election later on. So it’s little surprise that he remains in prison. It’s somewhat more surprising that the unelected justices of the circuit courts and Supreme Court haven’t yet struck down these laws, but one can hope they will do so in the future.

There is some hope beyond that. The Felony Murder Rule exists in 46 out of 50 states. That’s four where it’s been done away with. So that’s hopeful. On the other hand, in 24 of those states, this rule can lead to the death penalty. So, yay, America. Continuing to hold justice to the fine standards established in the 19th century!

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