Felony Murder Rule

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The Felony Murder rule applies where the victim dies in the course of the defendant’s commission or attempted commission of a felony. Formerly speaking felony murder is a strict liability rule without any mens rea requirement. If the defendant commits or attempts to commit the felony, and if a death results in the course of it, then the defendant can be charged regardless of intent or knowledge.

Felony Murder is not an independent charge, the way first degree murder or voluntary manslaughter is rather it is a legal doctrine which, when applicable allows prosecutors to charge the defendant with murder even though a murder charge might not be justified, absent the rule.

The Felony Murder rule says that if one or more persons commit a felony, and here will say we have two criminals, Meena and Reena and there was a homicide killing during the course of the felony, then all of the persons who committed the felony both Meena and Reena are liable for murder.

For example: Let’s say Meena and Reena decide to rob a bank and Meena commits a homicide, she kills someone during the course of the robbery. Now keep in mind, Reena didn’t shoot her gun, the only person who shot was Meena still because they committed the felony together. Reena will also be liable under the felony murder.

The Felony Murder rule usually applies to only certain dangerous crimes such as Robbery, Burglary or Terrorism. In most states, a participant in a felony will only be liable for murder if the homicide is committed by another participant. In a few states, the felony murder rule will apply even if the killing is committed by non felons.

Going back to our example of the bank robbery. Let’s say a police officer, or a security guard kill someone, he shoots his gun and kill someone during the robbery. So in the majority of states there would be no felony murder rule liability because the shooting was committed by a non participant, a non felon but in some states, the felony murder rule will apply even if the killing were committed by a non felon. Few states also provided defense where a felon did not participate in the violent act and also did not reasonably believe that the other felon was armed and dangerous.

Therefore, the Felony Murder rule imposes liability for murder on any person committing certain felonies where a homicide occurs. In most states, there is no liability for homicides committed by non-felons. In some states, a felon will not be liable if he reasonably believed the other participant was neither armed nor dangerous.

There has been a lot of criticism of the felony murder rule. After all the first degree murder charge, in many cases means subjecting the defendant to the death penalty. Traditional application of the rule, then could result in capital punishment for a defendant who showed no intent or premeditation.