Felony Murder

Background

Under the felony murder rule if D is committing a felony and accidentally kills an individual, the killing will be deemed a murder. The justification for the felony murder rule is that the defendant had the requisite intent to commit the felony and thus should be liable for the natural consequences of his actions. Thus, his intent to commit the felony transfers automatically to the murder.

Although the felony murder rule varies greatly from one jurisdiction to another, most courts have limited the application of the rule to serious or inherently dangerous felonies such as arson, assault, burglary, kidnapping, rape, and robbery. In other jurisdictions the court may examine the facts of each case to determine if the felony was actually dangerous. The rationale behind this approach is that a defendant should only be liable for the natural and probable consequences of his actions. Other courts might use a foreseeability standard.

Causality

Direct Causation - Defendant's gun accidentally shoots and kills victim during a botched stickup attempt. Here, the defedant's bullet is both the "but for" cause and the "proximate cause" of the victim's death.

Indirect Causation - During robbery attempt, victim fires at defendant, accidentally killing a police officer who arrived at the scene. Some courts would hold that the defendant is guilty of felony murder, even through the defendant did not fire the fatal bullet.

Limits on the Doctrine

Co-Conspirators - As a general rule, the felony-murder rule will not apply when a defendant's co-conspirator is killed during a felony attempt.

Independent Action - Felony-murder rule may not apply if the felony is assault and the assault ultimately resulted in the death off the victim. This limitation prevents the automatic conversion of any assault case in a murder case.



See Crimes