Criminal Law

Crime Just Might Pay

You've heard it and maybe even said it dozens of times: Crime doesn't pay. Or does it? Sometimes, when things are just right (or just wrong?), crime does pay.

A Killer Gets Rich?

Brandon Palladino and his wife Deanna were addicted to illegal drugs. To finance their drug habit, they staged a robbery of Dianne Edwards - his mother-in-law and Deanna's' mother. The plan was to steal her jewelry and other valuables and sell them to buy drugs.

Something went wrong with that plan and Brandon killed his mother-in-law. He pled guilty to manslaughter charges and faces up to 25 years in prison.

By her will, Dianne left all of her worldly possessions to her daughter Deanna; Deanna also got the proceeds from her mother's life insurance policy. In all, Deanna got over $400,000, using about half of that money to pay for Brandon's legal defense.

Deanna died of a drug overdose in 2009. In her will, Brandon will receive all of her worldly possessions - namely, over $200,000, money Deanna got as a result of her mother's murder.   

Can He Get the Money?

Son-of-Sam Laws

Strangely, yes, Brandon could be a rich man when he gets out of prison. That's because the laws designed to make sure crime doesn't pay don't apply to cases like Brandon Palladino's.

Most states have Son-of-Sam laws barring convicted criminals from benefiting from their crimes. These laws, which started in New York - where Brandon's crime took place - prevent criminals from profiting in any way from their crimes, such as through book or movie deals about the crimes they committed.

Slayer's Rules

Also, most states have laws barring convicted criminals from being beneficiaries of wills or insurance policies made by their victims. So, for instance, a husband who kills his wife typically can't get his wife's worldly belongings even if her will specifically leaves him everything he owns.

These laws don't apply to Brandon Palladino because he's getting the money under his wife's will and he had nothing to do with his wife's death. It's really that plain and simple.

Possible Twist

There's a strange twist in Palladino's case, though. There are reports that Deanna gave Brandon the key to her mother's home so he could steal the valuables to finance both of their drug addictions.

If that can, in fact, be proven, it's possible that Deanna and Brandon conspired to commit the robbery, making them both legally responsible for Dianne's death.

In other words, New York's Son-of-Sam law would bar Deanna from getting her mother's fortune, which in turn would bar Brandon from getting it from Deanna.

Why the Run Around?

Cases like this can shock common sense. Loopholes like the one exposed in the Palladino case might be closed by:

  • Fixing Son-of-Sam laws to be much broader, making sure there's no way a convicted criminal can enjoy any benefit whatsoever from the crime. If money or some other benefit can be tied to the criminal's victim, the victim shouldn't get that benefit
  • Make similar changes to state wills and probate limiting the transfer of money and assets between married or blood-related beneficiaries when the money or assets are connected to crime victims related to the beneficiaries by blood or marriage
  • Having the insurance industry create tighter rules and restrictions on paying out on policies where beneficiaries are implicated in the injury or death of victim-insureds

Laws and what happens in real life don't always match. If you think there should be harsher laws when convicted criminals benefit to any degree from their crimes, contact your state and local lawmakers

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What are the Son-of-Sam laws in my state?
  • What might happen to the money if no one claims it because they're criminally connected to the murder?
  • Can an insurance company refuse to pay on a life insurance policy if it thinks foul play was involved in the insured's death but no criminal charges are filed against the beneficiary?
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