Felony-Murder Rule

Felony-Murder Rule

A Rule of Law that holds that if a killing occurs during the commission or attempted commission of a felony (a major crime), the person or persons responsible for the felony can be charged with murder.

Generally an intent to kill is not necessary for felony-murder. The rule becomes operative when there is a killing during or a death soon after the felony, and there is some causal connection between the felony and the killing.

The felony-murder rule originated in England under the Common Law. Initially it was strictly applied, encompassing any death that occurred during the course of a felony, regardless of who caused it. Therefore, if a police officer attempting to stop a Robbery accidentally shot and killed an innocent passerby, the robber could be charged with murder.

Today most jurisdictions have limited the rule by requiring that the felony must be a dangerous one or that the killing is foreseeable, or both. Statutes that restrict the application of the rule to dangerous felonies usually enumerate the crimes. Burglary, Kidnapping, rape, and robbery are typical felonies that invoke the rule. Under a number of statutes, the felony must be a proximate cause of the death. In other words, the killing must have been a natural and direct consequence of the felony.

Felony-murder cannot be charged if all the elements of the felony are included in the elements of murder. This is known as the merger doctrine, which holds that if the underlying felony merges with the killing, the felony cannot constitute felony-murder. For example, all of the elements of Assault and Battery with a deadly weapon are included in murder. If a killing, therefore, occurred during the course of this crime, the accused would be charged with murder.

The future of the felony-murder rule is in doubt. Some jurisdictions have abolished the rule and others continue to limit its application. In the 1982 case of Enmund v. Florida, 458 U.S. 782, 102 S. Ct. 3368, 73 L. Ed. 2d 1140, the Supreme Court ruled that the imposition of the death penalty upon an Accomplice who neither kills, attempts to kill, or intends that a killing occur or lethal force be used in the commission of a felony-murder constitutes Cruel and Unusual Punishment. In those states that have retained the offense, it is usually classified as murder in the first degree, for which the penalty might be death or imprisonment.

References in periodicals archive ?
Stepping back from the more specific question of accomplice liability, the felony-murder rule itself has inspired harsh criticism.
Under most current laws enshrining the felony-murder rule, jurors are rarely asked to make affirmative findings on whether an individual defendant himself participated in the killing or intended it.
Roth & Sundby, supra note 308, at 461-78 (analyzing the felony-murder rule as operating as a presumption of murderous intent and concluding that under this model, the rule unconstitutionally shifts the burden of proof to the criminal defendant).
Gerber, supra note 314, at 772-75 (comparing the requirements for liability under the felony-murder rule with those for civil liability and noting that the felony-murder rule, while involving far higher stakes, nevertheless omits issues of proof regarding the actor's state of mind and causation without which a wrongful death liability would never be imputed).
To accomplish this goal, the Comment begins by reviewing the histories and rationales underlying both the felony-murder rule and the duress defense.
36) Two centuries later, Sir William Blackstone adapted Coke's doctrine in defining the basis of the felony-murder rule.
Forty-eight states currently recognize some version of the felony-murder rule.
Even further, Bugliosi points out that Bush could be liable to what in law is called the felony-murder rule whereby certain felonies are "so inherently dangerous, in and of themselves, and the risk of death so high" as to indicate first degree murder, "even though there was no malice.
In March 1998, the Fourth District Court of Appeals ruled that manufacturing methamphetamine is an inherently dangerous felony for the purpose of the second-degree felony-murder rule.
The felony-murder rule and the full responsibility doctrine are closely related.
By recognizing an intentional act may unintentionally endanger many innocent victims, both the felony-murder rule and a full responsibility rule protect the community at the expense of the lawbreaker.
One educational benefit of the felony-murder rule is that it expresses a simple, commonsense, readily enforceable and widely known principle which informs the public about the severe consequences of dangerous felonies.