Felony Murder Doctrine

Felony Murder Doctrine




There are many ways for a clever prosecutor to charge a person with murder, whether or not he was truly the triggerman. In most situations, in order to be guilty of murder, it must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant killed the victim with “malice aforethought”. This method that the killer acted with some guilty mental state, such as intent to kill, intent to inflict great bodily harm, or recklessness. However, there is another way for a person to be charged with murder.

Under the felony murder doctrine, anybody who causes a death while committing or attempting to commit a felony is guilty of murder. Whether or not they intended to cause the death is completely irrelevant. observe that when the police are in hot pursuit of the felon, already after the crime has been committed, the crime is deemed to be in progress, for the purposes of the felony murder doctrine. So, if somebody has just robbed a bank, and is running from the police, and then causes a fatal car accident, they are guilty of murder.

People have already been charged with murder when their partners in crime were justifiably killed. So, if one of the robbers is shot by a security guard while robbing a bank, his accomplices are all guilty of his murder.

This rule dates back to English shared law, and it has several justifications. First, and perhaps most importantly, it is meant to discourage people from committing felonies. If a criminal knows that he might be charged with murder if he accidentally causes a death during a robbery, he is going to think twice before robbing someone, or so the reasoning goes.

Some states have tried to mitigate the harsh effects that this rule has. For example, in California, felony murder can only serve as a gateway to a first-degree murder charge when the death results from a felony that is specifically listed in the murder statute. On the list are the crimes generally considered to be the most heinous, such as rape, armed robbery, and arson.

If a death occurs during the commission of any other felony, the defendant is, at most, guilty of second-degree murder, and only if the felony is considered to be inherently dangerous.




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